The man who will 'clap harder than anyone' when Ben Youngs breaks cap record
Jason Leonard will be Ben Youngs’ loudest cheerleader at Twickenham on Saturday as he urges the England scrum-half to savour a landmark achievement.
Youngs, 32, will surpass Leonard to becomes the country’s most capped male player when he steps off the bench and makes his 115th appearance in the Guinness Six Nations clash with Wales.
The Leicester scrum-half will reach the milestone in front of a 82,000 sell-out crowd 12 years after running on for his debut against Scotland.
Former Lions prop Leonard, who retains close ties with the game as an administrator and speaker having retired in 2004, feels only warmth for his successor in waiting as England’s most enduring player.
“I’ll be at Twickenham and I’ll be clapping harder than anyone in the West Stand when Ben comes on. It will be a great achievement,” Leonard told the PA news agency.
“To do it in front of a home crowd is amazing and I’m pretty sure that Twickenham will go absolutely nuts in celebration – and rightly so.
“I know Ben and his brother Tom, and their old man Nick, who used to play scrum-half for England himself back in the day. So I know the family and a nicer guy than Ben you couldn’t wish for.
“A record is there to be broken. Never, ever, did I think that this would be here for all eternity. It was always a case that it’s going to happen, so the question was when really.
“Ben has been such a great international player for over a decade now and he’s an absolute credit to the game, his club, his country, his family and his friends.
“The scary but positive thing is that he’s still got two or three years of rugby left in him. He’s not finished yet.”
Leonard eclipsed Rory Underwood’s milestone of 85 England appearances in 2000 but Youngs is the only other man from these shores to join him in the ranks of rugby’s Test centurions.
“The record has been very special and it still will be when Ben beats it. But it was never about the record, it’s not something I coveted,” Leonard said.
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“In the era I started playing for England, if you got more than 30 caps you were considered a success.
“The greatest prize I walked away with is not the records or accolades, but the memories and playing with your mates.
“Ben’s still got a couple of years left in the tank but he’ll know that he can’t carry on until his 40s, that’s just not going to happen.
“It’s a case of going out and enjoying the moment, while also concentrating on his performance. And you can’t take it for granted because you’re one injury away from retirement.
“You do generally try to enjoy every second of it because you know it could end tomorrow and that you’re a long time retired.”
Youngs has been reunited in the England camp with his old Leicester head coach Richard Cockerill, who now oversees the forwards.
Cockerill’s playing career ended at Welford Road two seasons before Youngs’ began in 2007 but with the former hooker moving into a coaching role, they continued to work together until his departure in 2017.
“As a 17-year-old Ben took teams by surprise, scored a few tries and won us games by his pace and his eye for a gap. He could score a try from nowhere and his show and go was pretty unbelievable,” Cockerill said.
“Clearly he’s developed his game significantly since then. His raw energy, pace and ability to naturally find space was very, very good.
“His kicking is as good as anybody’s in the world. At the start of his career that was a work on for him but that’s now as good as any nine in world rugby. He’s stayed with the modern game.
“I’m pretty sure he’ll set the World Cup as an aim and reassess after that. There are guys who are playing into their mid 30s and beyond, so why not Ben?”
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