Ben Youngs has mentally reset his caps total to zero as he targets the ultimate goal of being a part of England’s 2023 World Cup quest.
Youngs joined Jason Leonard in the ranks of red rose Test centurions with a two-try, man-of-the-match performance when Italy were defeated 34-5 at the Stadio Olimpico last month.
England were later crowned Six Nations champions and having only recently turned 31, Eddie Jones’ first choice scrum-half is determined to extend his international career well into a second decade.
Jones on Thursday morning names his team to face Georgia in this weekend’s Autumn Nations Cup opener and Youngs wants to be involved as he casts himself as a rookie in search of his debut.
“The short-term goal is Georgia. Long-term, I want to be part of the World Cup in 2023,” the Lions half-back said.
“It’s a long-term goal but there’s a lot that can happen between now and then so I will take it one game at a time, but I do without doubt want to be a part of it in 2023.
“After the Italy game, I gave myself the opportunity afterwards to absorb what had happened.
“I remember distinctly when I played my 50th that I made it into something that it wasn’t in going out there, playing really well and justifying why I got 50.
“So I guess experience helped when I got to 100 because I treated it like another game, I just played.
“Afterwards I allowed myself to absorb everything and appreciate what I had done. I then wanted to have a clean slate, start again and envision that I’m starting from one again.
“This is my first week in camp and I’ve got the opportunity to get one cap. I have used it as a reset.
“People can have various ways of looking at it and doing it, but that’s the approach I’ve gone with.”
Youngs has been England’s preferred nine for the majority of the last decade and he still has a clear edge on his closest rivals.
Dan Robson was supreme for Wasps last season and won his third cap after an 18-month absence when he replaced Youngs in Rome, but he owed his place on the bench to Willi Heinz’s calf problem.
Heinz is admired by Jones but at 33 he is in the twilight of his career and must still overcome his latest injury setback. Alex Mitchell, meanwhile, is seen as a prospect for the future.
It narrows the immediate options to Youngs and Robson with the former’s experience, control, nose for the try-line and command of his forwards elevating him above his rival.
“I got experience at Test level at a young age. You can get out there a bit earlier as a scrum-half,” Youngs said.
“I don’t see myself yet as the guy who is mid-30s and still trying to figure out ways of staying at the top. I still see myself as the 31-year-old that is full of enthusiasm and desire to get better.
“You can look anywhere for athletes who are still at the top of their game – Roger Federer, Richard Wigglesworth, (Cristiano) Ronaldo – but I don’t feel right now that is something I need to focus on. I’m not at that stage yet.
“A lot of it’s in the mind. With this squad we’ve got an unbelievable group of young, enthusiastic guys and I can feed off that.
“They have the real bit between their teeth and I’m really enjoying being a part of it, trying to help them because I know that if I help them, they’ll help me.”
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