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Freddie Burns names the Leicester No9 he wants England to start

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Freddie Burns has put his head on the chopping block ahead of Thursday’s latest England team announcement and named the Leicester player he wants to start as Test scrum-half this weekend. Tigers teammates, the seasoned Ben Youngs and the rookie Jack van Poortvliet, are battling each other for selection to be the English No9 against the All Blacks this Saturday at Twickenham.


They are Eddie Jones’ only two scrum-half options after the England coach cut his squad from 36 to 25 on Tuesday evening, further firing the debate over who should get the nod to start versus New Zealand.

Youngs, who started the Autumn Nations Series opener against Argentina, is a Test centurion who has seen and done it all while van Poortvliet, last Saturday’s starting No9 against Japan, is the coming man and many people’s favourite to make the England XV this weekend.

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Burns, though, doesn’t agree, explaining on this week’s RugbyPass Offload show that Youngs would be the better option to start for England on this occasion and that the energy which van Poortvliet brings would be best utilised in the closing 20 minutes against a tiring Kiwi defence.

“I’m going to pick Ben Youngs every day,” said Burns with an air of confidence when asked to discuss the merits of his Leicester teammates who are challenging each other for the same club and country position with the Tigers and England. “If someone says there is a World Cup final tomorrow, I’m picking Ben Youngs.

“Not because he is a good mate, but as a tactical thinker, as a leader, and that is one thing that wouldn’t surprise me this week with Eddie Jones that if they did go back to starting Ben Youngs at nine just because he can do what he does and then you can bring that speed and gung-ho of JVP when the game is broken up.


“It’s like I was saying earlier about Marcus Smith, if on 60 minutes you roll on JVP and Marcus Smith, Jesus, you start talking about tired defenders and stuff like that. I know it is never as simple as that but f*** me, I’d be scared as a defender seeing those two come off the bench and know that the game and the tempo is going to go up.”

Asked to explain how they differ and what their individual strengths are, Burns added: “First and foremost, Ben Youngs is the best scrum-half I have ever played with. Like, he is an incredible player. He gets unnecessary flak from people outside of those England circles. There is a reason why he is Eddie’s go-to, there is a reason why he has a 100-odd caps for England.

I know Jack van Poortvliet started at the weekend but in the game before, in the Argentina game, never underestimate the work that Ben Youngs does for 60 minutes that allows JVP to come for 20 minutes.

“I go back to the Prem final (last June for Leicester), we started Richard Wigglesworth and brought on Ben Youngs. There is a real string to England’s bow there having two such great nines. JVP is a bit greener behind the ears, he is a bit more gung-ho in terms of chucking him in there and he will just go, go, go.


“Ben Youngs is more of a thinker, more tactical and probably a bit more streetwise just from experience. But either way, whoever they start and put on the bench, you will see an injection of pace when either one of them comes on because of the work the other one does before.

“They are both rapid, but JVP is a freak, he will do a 50kg chin-up for like two or three. Honestly, he is strong.”


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