Ben Youngs reflects on his resilience as he announces his retirement from the England team.
It is stated that despite all of Ben Youngs’ accomplishments in his international career, such as winning Six Nations titles, a grand slam, whitewashing Australia, going on a British & Irish Lions tour, and reaching the 2019 World Cup final, he is most proud of his durability. Despite doubts about his place in the England team and the emergence of new talent at scrum-half, Youngs has managed to keep his doubters and competitors at bay.
Since his debut on the wing in 2010 with Martin Johnson, Youngs has played under four different coaches, including Stuart Lancaster and Eddie Jones. His first start and standout performance against Australia in Sydney marked a breakthrough moment, and he recently played his 127th and final game on Friday with Steve Borthwick at the helm. With the support of these coaches, Youngs has now become the most capped player for his country.
“I have been selected by all four of my coaches during my time with the England team,” says Youngs. His final match will be the bronze medal match against Argentina in Paris. “It’s a nice gesture,” he adds.
Each coach has their own individual preferences, and every coach desires different qualities. However, I have been selected by all four of my coaches during my time with England. I take pride in this, as it demonstrates that I have a valuable contribution to make to the team.
Youngs’ upcoming exit from international play coincides with Courtney Lawes’ departure, and it is likely that there will be more players leaving from the current team. However, the 34-year-old is confident that he is making the right decision at this time. Despite facing personal challenges, such as the loss of his sister-in-law Tiffany (wife of his brother and fellow England player Tom) in June 2022, Youngs remained committed to his goal of playing in a fourth World Cup. It is a testament to his character and determination that he was able to achieve this.
Unfortunately, Youngs is currently at the bottom of the hierarchy in France. Alex Mitchell has risen as England’s top pick and delivered a great performance in the semi-final loss to South Africa. Danny Care has been chosen as the substitute option. It must not have been simple for him to spend nearly four months away from home and only make two appearances off the bench during the pool stage against Japan and Chile before Friday’s match.
“It has certainly been a unique experience,” Youngs acknowledges. “I am still responsible for driving the team and speaking in meetings. I also play a significant role in sharing my past experiences and supporting the team, but I am unable to physically do so during the weekend. It would not be fair to the team if I neglected these responsibilities.”
I am proud and fortunate to have the opportunity to finish work on Fridays. I have been doing it for a long time and there is great talent in the 9 position. It just feels like the right choice. I am very satisfied. The fact that I have been thinking about this for a long time and did not hesitate in making my decision proves that it was the right one.
I will miss the exhilaration of stepping onto a packed field. I will even miss the tension of important matches, when everything is at stake.
I will miss the anticipation leading up to the week, especially when it’s an important week with my teammates. I will also miss the sense of camaraderie and the shared goal of achieving something extraordinary within an exclusive group. There are many things that I will miss, but I will also reflect back upon them with great fondness and satisfaction.
Youngs still has one season remaining on his contract with Leicester. He is excited at the opportunity to fully focus on his club responsibilities, without having to leave for international duties. However, before that, he plans on ending his time with a bang, with his loved ones present, including his brother Tom and niece Maisie.
“It was a moment of great pride for me to play alongside my brother,” he says. “Despite facing challenges off the field, I remained committed to playing for England and being a part of the rugby community. Reaching 100 caps and being a part of that team is truly special.”
“New Zealand in that semi-final was one of the greatest team performances I have ever been a part of. The grand slam win in Paris in 2016 and probably when we beat Ireland in the first round of the 2019 Six Nations – that was also one of my favourites wins. But you can’t beat going to Australia and whitewashing them 3-0. That was pretty special as well.”
When asked about his desired legacy, Youngs replied, “I hope to be remembered as someone who contributed greatly. I have experienced great success with England and have been through multiple rebuilding phases. I believe I am leaving the team in a good position and I aspire to be recognized as a key member of a successful team, one that is headed in the right direction.”
He quickly replied that the decision was up to others. Based on his own experiences, Youngs has always been one of the most approachable and friendly members of any team he belonged to. One can recall the 2019 World Cup and England’s training camp in Miyazaki, Japan.
There was a mistake made by the administration, causing the press to stay at the same hotel as the England team. In the past, a head coach would have demanded this arrangement, but Jones was not happy about it. Some members of the 2019 team shared his animosity, but running into Youngs always felt safe. A simple greeting and conversation in the elevator may seem insignificant, but it made a big difference for tired and confused journalists. His impact on the field for the past 13 years is undeniable, but he will also be missed off the field.