Ben Youngs ready to lay it on the line for England in Six Nations again
Norwich-born scrum-half Ben Youngs will step out for his first Twickenham Six Nations start on Saturday – and has made it clear he knows exactly what is on the line.
Italy will be the visitors for Martin Johnson's flourishing side, who produced plenty of genuine promise in their 26-19 victory in Wales seven days ago.
That was Youngs' full debut in the championship – a good example of just how far the 21-year-old Leicester Tigers star's stock has risen in the last 18 months.
But it is not just the flair and potential shown by the former Gresham's, North Walsham and Holt man that has made an impression in his eight England caps.
Youngs admits it himself: the passion he gets from playing for his country, as his dad Nick did, burns inside before every game.
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'You are putting on a shirt where you are fully aware the whole nation's eyes are on you,' said Youngs. 'You are not just playing for yourself, but for your family – you don't want to let them down – and you don't want people around the country going around saying, 'Oh god, how awful was he at the weekend...'
'You've got a lot of pressure on your shoulders in terms of performing for yourself personally, you've got to prove the point that you deserve the shirt. You've got to prove to any critics that they are wrong.
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'You've got to play well. There's the hopes of a lot of family members at home biting their nails, hoping you do all right – and the thought of you not doing that is hard for them as well.
'And obviously you've got a huge amount of rugby fans and a lot of English people who would love to be putting on that jersey but can't for whatever reason, and you have got to play for them.
'The pressure is there, for sure. That's the best I can really describe it. There's a big weight on your shoulders, but at the same time it's a nice weight.
'It is a massive honour to play for your country. I can't really describe the feeling of running out at Twickenham, to hear the national anthem and the noise. It's just phenomenal; something very, very special.
'I am one that gets pretty emotional when the anthem plays for many reasons: thinking about people who can't be there and are not with us any more, like my grandfather – Pappa Fred I call him – and my godfather Trevor Charles.
'They came from Norfolk as well, I grew up with them, and you cannot help but think about them. You know they are watching somewhere, and you sort of use that emotion and that passion to drive you forward through the game.'
Youngs described his full Six Nations debut, in front of 70,000 fans in Wales, as 'amazing' – helped by England's positive result.
Heightened expectations mean England will be heavily backed to build on that victory when Italy come to town, in the process add to the Azzurri's current tally of 48 losses in 56 championship matches.
But Youngs believes the Blues have made huge strides since joining the tournament in 2000 – a reasonable point given the Italians came within a late Ronan O'Gara drop-goal of beating Ireland in Rome.
'Italy have improved no end and they are a very good side,' he said. 'We know what they are capable of and they have got some fantastic players: Sergio Parisse, the number eight, and Martin Castrogiovanni would probably walk into any world XI.
'So there is no doubt they are full of talent, they are not the Italy of old and they will turn teams over because they are a very, very good side.
'The pressure and the expectation now, people expect us to win the next three games – home games as well. The French are good, as are Italy and Scotland, and it is one game at a time for us. We've got to take Italy down first and we'll see how we go.
'Expectation now is rising in the camp but with the experienced guys and the players we have got, we should be able to deal with the pressures that come along with that.'
Only Andrew Sheridan will be missing for England's Italy encounter at Twickenham on Saturday, but even if the hosts are tempted into a false sense of security, Johnson has made it clear to his squad how he sees it.
Youngs added: 'He demands there is no complacency. He has got a wise head with everything he has achieved in the game and he said we have got to deal with the pressure in terms of the expectations people are now going to put on us, but at the same time we've got to be able to match them.
'It's going to be hard on Saturday and we will approach it like every other game because Italy deserve the respect of any team they face and he is just making sure that everyone is at the races come 2.30pm.'