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'He is a different shape to any other nine I have ever played against'

By Chris Jones
Ben Youngs /Getty

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Ben Youngs is set to eclipse Jason Leonard as England’s most capped player, but the 32-year-old scrum half insists he is still learning new tricks and has taken inspiration from Antoine Dupont, the newly crowned World Rugby Player of the Year.

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You would have thought that with 112 England appearances – two behind Leonard – Youngs has seen it all, however, he is happy to acknowledge that Dupont has raised the bar for international scrum halves and that is pushing him to deliver even better performances for club and country as he aims to prove as Tigers captain against Connacht in the Heineken Champions Cup.

Youngs said: ”I watch him(Dupont) and I try to see what he does and pick up on his an exceptional talent and he is World Player of the Year and rightly so because he has had an incredible year. Guys like Will Genia were outstanding and burst onto the scene and changed the way 9s played the game and then Dupont has come in and takes it and runs with it and again changes the way (9s play).

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“Dupont’s greatest strength is that he’s such a stocky, powerful guy. Even when you think you have got him, he manages to evade you and wriggle out of it. He almost could play as a 12, like a crash-ball 12, because he is so compact and powerful.

“That is what makes him such a threat. He is a different shape to any other nine I have ever played against, and I have never seen a nine with such compact power. He has obviously got a huge amount of skill as well, of course he has.

“He is an extremely dangerous guy – when you think you’ve got him, he wriggles out of it and away he goes again. He is an exceptional talent and I’ve enjoyed watching him and when I play against him I thrive in getting that opportunity.”

Youngs has found a new playing level of his own and retains the starting jersey for England which means he will break Leonard’s record in the 2022 Six Nations championship and has set his sights on another Rugby World Cup by competing in France in 2023. To achieve that he will “ squeeze” a little more juice out of the lemon, as he puts it.

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With Leicester enjoying an unbeaten start to the season in all competitions, they are the scalp that everyone wants to take and that includes Connacht. Leicester’s current success is the result of the impact Steve Borthwick has made since taking over the coaching reins and has helped erase the memories of the poor run before he arrived.

Youngs has experienced all of the highs and lows in recent years and said: ”When I look back, we played Glasgow one year (2017) at home and we lost by 43 points to nil and that was as bad a day as I have ever had in Europe playing for Leicester. From then to watching these guys thrive in France (beating Bordeaux) and stick to a game plan, and execute it, and win makes me unbelievably proud of the group and you think ‘blimey, we have come a long way’. But the big thing for us is you have just got to look at these things like a starting point and it leads us into this week nicely.

“We face a different challenge this weekend. Irish teams traditionally don’t mind being the underdogs and they come out and take you by surprise. With our record currently, every team wants to take the scalp and break the winning cycle and each week teams find it easy to get motivated because it would give them a huge amount of confidence. We have to keep doing what we’ve been doing for the last 12 weeks and bring it at the weekend.”

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