Ben Youngs: I've got to make sure I am here because I am performing. I can still give and add to the team

Youngs didn't tour with England in the summer

When Ben Youngs tuned into England's summer tour of Australia from these shores, he did so as a fan.

The scrum-half had recently lifted the Premiership title with Leicester Tigers at Twickenham and was part of a team that dominated the top-flight from start to finish in 2021-22. 

But it was another No.9 from the same parish who headed 'Down Under' rather than him.

Head coach Eddie Jones concluded that Youngs' clubmate Jack van Poortvliet - along with the experienced Danny Care and Bristol Bears' Harry Randall - would make up his scrum-half contingent meaning England's most capped player was left at home.

"I have missed tours before and you end up just watching as a fan," Youngs said. "Obviously you have got a lot of teammates from Leicester who are playing out there and a lot of guys who you have got great relationships with anyway who you have played a lot of England games with so you watch it as a fan. To see the boys win the series against Australia was awesome, to be honest with you. Seeing the guys do that and seeing the Leicester lads do so well as well, I was really pleased."

The confidence levels of his compatriot Van Poorvliet would have been sky-high. After soaking up the knowledge from Youngs as well as Richard Wigglesworth throughout the domestic campaign, the 21-year-old came off the bench to score on his England debut before starting the 25-17 win in the second Test in Brisbane.

"l was very proud watching Jack do his thing," added Youngs. "I have seen how hard he works every day, seen how much growth he has had in such a short period from when he first joined to where he is now and he will continue to go from strength to strength. A lot of it is all his hard work. My input has been really minimal. It is more just giving him advice if he needs it, if he asks for it but we help each other in many ways and that is a real special thing to have."

The aftermath of England's successful tour triggered some of the Premiership's star scrum-halves to once again stake their claim to be involved in the international set-up.

Alex Mitchell's displays for Northampton Saints earned him a call-up to a mini-training camp at the start of the month, but the return of Raffi Quirke from injury - who shone in an England shirt 12 months ago - means the Sale Shark has replaced Mitchell in Jones's Autumn Nations Series plans which include Van Poortvliet and Youngs.

The tried and trusted Youngs is now back in the fold, but he is in agreement that the intense battle for the No.9 jersey is only healthy for England with less than 12 months to go until the World Cup.

"Every player knows competition gets the best out of each player and it just means the whole thing drives us forward and there is no doubt right now there is an incredible amount of young talent at nine and also a few older boys like myself and Danny so it is an exciting time for English rugby having that much depth in that position," said Youngs.

"I think everyone is naturally competitive. We wouldn't be where we are unless you have got some form of that in you and whilst you still feel like you can add and contribute and push yourself, it is a great place to be. You live off that enthusiasm of those youngsters and it sort of feeds you.

"Right now, you have obviously got two youngsters for the autumn and I am a guy with more experience than those guys. In terms of the World Cup stuff, it is just one campaign at a time. It was Danny in the summer, it is myself right now. I am here this week. I have got to make sure I am here because I am performing because I can still give and add. That is all I am focused on. It is about making sure I am adding each day and trying to help where I can but also make sure I am pushing because it will only drive all of us."

Youngs' omission from the summer tour enabled him to refresh ahead of Leicester's Premiership title defence. In his words, he "feels in a really good spot" after being rotated by Tigers boss Steve Borthwick in their opening six matches of the campaign but the competition at both club and international level means the scrum-half is aware that improvements are required at all times.

"I think experience allows you to hone in on what are the key things for your week and what you want to do in training and what you need to improve on," said Youngs. "That is no different now for me. I guess I can narrow in on two or three things that I feel will continue to work on my game which I am doing at the moment.

"There is a specific area which I am working hard at and that is exciting as well when you have got new bits to work on and you are trying to get better at it and you see small improvements. I sort of enjoy the fact that this little area is not where I need to be and I kind of enjoy the challenge of trying to get there."

The Leicester No.9 didn't reveal anything specific in terms of what he has been focusing on but his point about experience is very valid. In Australia, the nous of Owen Farrell and Courtney Lawes would have no doubt played a part in England's success but the pair are injury doubts for next month due to concussion protocols.

Assistant coach Richard Cockerill didn't have any more news on the recovery of the duo but the pair are the strongest candidates to skipper England in November, with Lawes the present incumbent of the armband.

If Lawes and Farrell are unable to feature in stages during the autumn, it leaves the door open for someone to fill the void. Youngs' name has to be in the frame while Sale's Tom Curry captained his country in this year's Six Nations.

Ellis Genge also led Leicester to the Premiership crown last term and when about the captaincy and leadership, Cockerill said: "We have got lots of good leaders in the squad. Eddie will have an idea of who he wants to potentially take the captaincy so there is a lot to go yet. Not everybody is ruled out of the captaincy equation, but we have got guys that captain their clubs and guys who are leading behind the scenes in their own way.

"We have got lots of options and it gives the opportunity to someone else to potentially step up if needed. The captaincy is really a secondary thought behind getting us as well prepared as we can."

On Genge, Cockerill - who originally signed the now Bristol prop for Leicester Tigers - added: "He has matured a lot and has turned into one of the best, if not the best loosehead in the world. 

"He is a fantastic player who leads by example, but he is having more influence off the field as well. He's earned the respect of players and management and has a key role in the leadership group."