Jason Leonard – the first England player to win 100 Test caps – has paid tribute to Leicester scrum-half Ben Youngs who will become only his country’s second player to reach that total on Saturday, insisting the milestone remains a remarkable achievement.

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Leonard won his 100th England cap against France at Twickenham in 2003, the year he helped win the World Cup in Australia. In reaching a century of Tests, Leonard had the honour of being enrolled as only the third member of the 100 club 17 years ago, joining Frenchman Philippe Sella (111 caps) and Australian David Campese (101).

England prop Leonard went on to play 114 times for his country before retiring in 2004, while he also featured in five Lions Test matches. However, the increasing number of Test each season has meant that membership of the centurion has ballooned in recent years.

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Alun Wyn Jones will win his 140th cap for Wales against Scotland on Saturday, breaking the all-time caps record of All Black Richie McCaw when his nine Lions Test appearances are added.

While the 100 club membership is growing, with more than 60 players now on the list, Leonard is adamant the increased number of matches doesn’t take anything away from Youngs’ achievement, particularly as he has faced stiff competition for the No9 jersey throughout a career that will harvest his 100th cap in Rome against Italy.

Leonard, the current chairman of the British and Irish Lions and previous RFU president, told RugbyPass: “Unless you are inside that rugby circle you do not realise the hard work that goes into achieving 100 caps. As an armchair fan, you see the 80 minutes but not the training sessions, the extra time spent on skills, getting up early doing weights and fitness plus the rehabilitation needed to look after your body.

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“To get through that and win 100 caps is a real testament to Ben, who is a fantastic player. I’m so glad for him. There will be a few following him like Owen Farrell (83) while Dylan Hartley (97) got close before injury hit. 

“It does come down to a bit of luck with injury and there is always pressure to keep your place because you have to prove yourself as the most experienced player. You have to constantly prove to the coaches you are not there for the ride and deserve selection.

“People get carried away saying there are more games played now but the contact and collisions in Test rugby are far more than in my day and that means you have to look after your body and mind. 

“You do get to know your own body and I remember under Clive Woodward the warm-up sessions sometimes became 45 minutes. I told him at 35 I could either do the warm-up or the training! Fair play to Clive. He said: ‘You know your own body’, walked off and let one of the other props come in.”

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Leonard also paid tribute to Wales captain Jones who will once again put his body on the line for his nation’s cause against Scotland. “It’s amazing and what a credit he is to his family, friends and his country. He is still one of the premier locks in the world and what a fantastic achievement for him and Wales.”

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