'This weekend for me is like playing in a Test match'
England scrum half Ben Youngs has admitted it has been tough watching other teams battle it out for the Premiership title while Leicester have struggled and has told his young team mates to relish the Premiership semi-final play off with arch-rivals Northampton at Mattioli Woods Welford Road.
This has become an incredibly emotional match for the Youngs family following the death this week of Tiffany, the wife of his brother Tom, after her long battle with cancer. A minute’s applause will be held before kick off as the Tigers family rallies around the brothers who have given so much to the club.
Leicester won the last of their record 10 league titles nine years ago and speaking before news of the family tragedy was revealed, Youngs highlighted the opportunity the club had created after a difficult period that saw Tigers finish 11th in successive seasons before the appointment of Steve Borthwick as head coach in 2020 allowed them to climb to sixth at the end of last season.
Youngs said: “When you have for a while not been anywhere near the play-offs, watching it from afar and watching other teams get success you do think ’Will we have a genuine shot again?’ When you are younger you take it for granted a bit, some of the young lads have had a really successful year but you don’t want them take it for it granted and that this happens every year. It doesn’t and I certainly realise that.
“I treat this game like a Test match. This weekend for me is like playing in a Test match, exactly the same process, it is a massive game.”
Despite making history and topping the table for every round this season, Youngs is taking nothing for granted and Harlequins’ triumph last season having finished the regular season in fourth place is a warning to Tigers. Quins went to Bristol and won 43-36 in extra time in the semi-final and beat Exeter Chiefs in an amazing final.
“The Quins game was pretty bonkers, great for rugby but bonkers” admitted Youngs. “It just shows it doesn’t matter at this stage if you come first, second, third or fourth. We are one of four teams battling for it and you just never know. You take care of what you need to take care of, execute our game plan and see where that gets us.”
That plan will revolve around the kicking strategy that has underpinned their season with Youngs and George Ford, who is joining Sale next season, the main architects. It does lead to kick-tennis but with Ford able to deliver his wickedly spinning bombs, allied to a well organised kick chase, Leicester have dominated these exchanges all season
Northampton have their own key play makers in half backs Dan Biggar and Alex Mitchell and Youngs is relishing the battle. He added: “I think it’s safe to say the halfbacks are going to have a pretty big say on who is going to win the game.
“They (Saints) are pretty lucky with the amount of playmakers and distributors they have, It allows them to put width on the ball. George Furbank can slot in at 10 and push Dan out and you have got Rory Hutchinson as well, they have got some nice ball players and it allows them to move the ball from wide to wide.
“From a defensive point of view, sometimes you can get fixated on trying to stop one guy but it is not as simple as that. It is about doing it collectively, defence is about doing it together, we have got to cut off those guys’ time and space. You sit off Dan or you sit off George then they will pick you off.”
Leicester’s 23-14 quarter final loss to Leinster in the Heineken Champions Cup has taught the team some important lessons and Youngs believes it will help them against Saints. “No team is going to roll over or give up on anything in a semi or any knock-out game in. We need to probably take some lessons from Leinster and we didn’t get it right that day.
“We felt like we probably didn’t get the start of our game right. We felt we were a little bit dictated to by Leinster. We lost some of the early exchanges and it’s about how we do that better in big games.”
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