Ben Youngs on the pressure of Test rugby and getting back to his best after the Lions tour
Last Updated: 28/01/14 5:32pm
England kick off their campaign in Paris at the Stade de France this weekend with Stuart Lancaster wrestling over the decision to throw some new faces into the starting line-up.
Northampton centre Luther Burrell could be wearing the No.13 jersey on Saturday and Lancaster may well give the No.11 shirt to Exeter winger Jack Nowell.
And Leicester scrum-half Ben Youngs, who has 33 caps for England, has some sound advice for handling the pressures of Test match rugby.
"When you're standing in the tunnel, wearing the jersey, and you're looking to run out for your country, it's an unbelievable feeling," said Youngs.
"It makes everything that you've been through worth it - even bad injuries. It's a really special feeling when you run out and the crowd roars, you get goose bumps, but you're still really focused. It's hard to describe. But you know your family is in the stands, and it's an emotional thing, full of adrenaline.
"But when the team isn't winning or the attack isn't going well, then quite often you feel yourself under a lot of pressure. That's when you get a lot of stick, and the finger gets pointed.
"That's often quite tough to handle, but any new guys coming in will know all about pressure, even if on the international stage it's more intense."
The 24-year-old admits it's not just on match day that players are having to really hit their straps.
"It really begins from the moment they arrive at team training. There is a bigger rivalry and spice to what happens on the practice field, because you know all the guys are competing for it.
"In club rugby, you usually know the guys that are going to start in positions for big games, whereas internationally, there's competition for those places. It's like an audition stage where everyone wants to be seen and heard."
Finding his form
Youngs believes he is approaching his best form for Leicester Tigers after admitting that he struggled at the beginning of the season following the British and Irish Lions' successful tour of Australia.
Youngs appeared in two of the three matches against the Aussies, starting the 16-15 defeat to the hosts and coming on as a replacement in the final Test, when the Lions stormed to a 41-16 win to clinch their first series win down under since 1997.
He now admits that after losing his place in the England side for the Autumn internationals to Lee Dickson, he realised he needed to work hard to get back into form for his club.
"I struggled at the beginning of the year a bit - I can see that now," admitted Youngs.
"I mean, coming off the back of the Lions tour it was a long old summer. The great thing is I'm back into it now and it's all falling into place nicely. I think you've got to stay in that good place, mentally, and if you do go through a bad patch, focus on coming out the other side.
"It's about knowing your strengths and your goals, reaching them and knowing what you're going to do to achieve them."
Youngs says the difficult experience has focussed his mind and he is determined to fulfil his potential.
"I just want to see how good I can be and get my full potential out. That's the main thing for me - that I am enjoying the experience of playing rugby and meeting great people, as you so often do. But I don't want to look back and think that I didn't quite train as well as I could or as hard as I could.
"My big goal is securing my England place with a view towards the 2015 World Cup. Being a home World Cup, it's a great opportunity, but we must do our jobs in the Six Nations first."
Ben Youngs is Palmer's Cocoa Butter official men's ambassador