After England's failures in 2011 and 2015, Ben Youngs is hoping Japan 2019 can bring a change in fortune for him and the team. We get inside the mind of the Tigers scrum-half

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Ben Youngs: “Antoine Dupont is setting the bar for scrum-halves”

All being well, Ben Youngs will equal Matt Dawson’s record of ten World Cup appearances by an English scrum-half next week against USA and then eclipse it against Argentina on 5 October. First, though, comes England’s opening match of Japan 2019 against Tonga on Sunday and Youngs goes into it with a ringing endorsement from his head coach.

“I’ve never seen him in better physical condition,” said Eddie Jones. “His preparation has been absolutely outstanding, so expect him to have a really good tournament.”

Youngs has had a long road back to fitness following shoulder surgery in April but hit his straps in England’s final warm-up match against Italy in Newcastle. Sky’s Stuart Barnes named him Man of the Match, saying: “He put England in the right parts of the field and ignited the game with his tempo.”

Now 30, the Leicester Tiger is hoping it will be third time lucky at the World Cup after England’s dismal showings in 2011 and 2015. Rugby World caught up with him recently for an Inside the Mind article that was published in our September issue…

Ben Youngs, England v Italy

On song: Youngs was named Man of the Match against Italy, scoring his 13th Test try (AFP/Getty Images)

“The best place I’ve been is Fiscardo, on the Greek island of Kefalonia. It’s a lovely little fishing village with great beaches and a sparkling sea; we took a boat out. My wife, Charlotte, and I have been there twice. Next time we go will be with the kids. At the moment a two-hour flight is the maximum we can do with them!”

Antoine Dupont, the French nine, is setting the bar for scrum-halves. He was fantastic in the French Top 14 final for Toulouse. He’s a really exciting player and I think he’s only scratched the surface of where he’s going. In this year’s England-France game (44-8), he was outstanding when he had no right to be. I know that when I’m long retired I’m going to be sitting there admiring what he’s doing, just as I’m admiring him now.”

Antoine Dupont scores for France against Italy, 2019

Dazzling talent: Antoine Dupont scores for France against Italy during this year’s Six Nations (Inpho)

“My specialist subject on Mastermind would be films and television. My favourite TV series is Game of Thrones and best film is The Shawshank Redemption, a classic that you can watch over and over again. Having kids now – Boris, four, and Billie, three – means it’s harder to get to the cinema. The last film I saw at a cinema was Dunkirk, which came out two years ago.”

“Athletes who keep performing year after year are inspirational. I’m a big fan of the Brownlee brothers. Obviously they’re siblings on a journey like (my brother) Tom and I. Then you’ve got guys like Ronaldo; he’s incredible how he reaches the heights yearly. Roger Federer as well is fantastic, and look at the comeback that Tiger Woods made.”

Alistair and Jonny Brownlee

Olympic icons: triathletes Alistair and Jonny Brownlee have inspired many (AFP/Getty)

“When I was 15, one of my mates had a moped and I crashed it. I spent the whole of that summer pot-washing in the local pub and all the money I earned I gave to my mate to fix the bike. That was my first job, at least the first job where I got a minimum wage rather than Dad’s wages on the farm!”

“I’m an ambassador for Robbie’s Rugby Festival, held down the road at Loughborough. It’s a charity event in its 11th year now and it’s very popular across the Midlands. The fact it raises money for a cancer trust makes it very close to myself and Tom and the family’s hearts.”

Tom Youngs at Robbie's Rugby Festival

Proud ambassador: Ben’s brother Tom at Robbie’s Rugby Festival, an event going from strength to strength

“I’m part of a racing syndicate. My club sponsor, Robert Cowell, is a horse trainer and suggested having a horse and running it locally around Leicestershire and Nottingham and Derby. It evolved from there and Leg It Lenny ran his first race in June, at Leicester. It was a fun day out and he did alright!”

“I’m delighted to see Norwich City return to the Premier League. I grew up near Norwich, so my allegiance is with them. I’ve no idea how they’re going to do this season, it could be quite a ruthless experience. I’m hoping their away fixture against Leicester City will be a Monday night or something so I can go to it.” [Unlucky Ben, it’s scheduled for Saturday 14 December.]

Norwich City celebrate a goal v Liverpool

Flying Canaries: Norwich City celebrate a goal last weekend. Youngs hopes to get along to a game (Getty)

“The World Cup is something everybody’s been waiting for and the next few weeks will be unbelievably exciting. I see it as an opportunity where we’ve invested as a side for four years under Eddie (Jones), and we’ve finally got to the stage where it’s around the corner. This is my second trip to Japan; I was here for the U20 World Championship in 2009 and had a fantastic three weeks in Tokyo.”

“Sometimes you get more pleasure from creating something than scoring yourself. I enjoyed being part of the try England (Chris Ashton) scored against Australia in 2010 where we ran the length of the pitch. The buzz of the crowd, to be defending our line and then turn it into a try, makes that my favourite try that I’ve been a part of.”

Ben Youngs paddle boarding in Japan

Surf city: Youngs tries paddle boarding during an England recovery session in Miyazaki (Getty Images)

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