Ben Youngs - The boy from Holt RFC who will bow out an England 'legend'

Ben Youngs made his England debut back in 2010

The news that Ben Youngs will end his international career following this weekend didn't really come as a surprise.

After Courtney Lawes decided to call time on his own England journey at the beginning of the week, you get the sense that the changing of the guard within Steve Borthwick's squad is now firmly underway.

Youngs, England's most capped men's player, is no longer the obvious choice at scrum-half with Alex Mitchell and Leicester Tigers teammate Jack van Poortvliet ahead of him in the pecking order, but the 34-year-old will win his 127th and final cap tonight against Argentina to bring the curtain down on an illustrious Test career.

"I sent Ben a text this week saying 30 years ago, we were teaching him how to catch and pass a rugby ball and trying to get him to do the basic stuff!" Mike Bush, former secretary of Holt RFC, tells TRU. "To think 30 years later he is retiring as England's most-capped men's player is quite extraordinary. I am so very proud of him and he must be very proud of what he has achieved himself."

When growing up, Youngs played much of his rugby at Holt RFC under the guidance of Bush. "There were several young children of people who were part of the club just standing around the club because their parents had brought them down. Because my son was one of those, I just got a ball and we took it outside and got all the young siblings who were like three, four or five years old and we started playing with the ball and it took off from there.

"We called them the 'Holt Gladiators' after the very popular TV programme 'Gladiators' because the kids loved watching that on a Saturday and then coming in on a Sunday and talking about it and trying to recreate some of what they had seen! It was a bit of a job to keep them focused on rugby sometimes!"

In Youngs' case, switching his attention back to the sport was never too difficult: "His father Nick had eight or nine caps for England and was a Leicester man so rugby was in his blood," adds Bush, who is currently the chairman of Holt RFC Property Ltd.

"To be honest, Ben loved the game but didn't like passing the ball very much! Once he got hold of it and tucked it under his arm, he was away. We did try and get hold of him but he was just such a good runner with the ball! He could turn on a sixpence and had that low centre of gravity even then."

From Bridge Road [the home of Holt RFC] and his school days at Gresham's, Youngs then moved into the Leicester Tigers academy before going on to reach the England set-up. 

He made his senior international debut against Scotland in 2010 before starting his first game in the second Test against Australia in Sydney later that summer. Youngs marked that occasion by scoring a brilliant try and from there, the rest, as they say, is history.

Youngs has gone on to play in four World Cups, win four Six Nations titles - including the Grand Slam in 2016 - he toured Australia with the British and Irish Lions in 2013 and he is one of just five Englishmen to surpass a century of caps for their country. 

"We had no idea he was going to be an England international when he was at Holt Rugby Club," Bush admits. "I had never done any coaching before so I had no idea from a professional point of view, but obviously from his enthusiasm and the way he played the game, he always turned up, was always on time, you just knew he was going to make a big contribution from somewhere.

"You can't build a side with just one player and we had a good group at Holt and we were very successful through the age-grades but Ben was always the standout. I didn't know he was going to get to 127 caps for England though!"

Last year in the Six Nations against Wales, Youngs did become England's most-capped men's player - overtaking Jason Leonard - and the achievement was recognised by the creation of a mural on the side of Holt RFC's clubhouse which was commissioned by England Rugby.

"It is very inspirational," Bush says when asked to describe the mural which has 'Made at Holt’ emblazoned across it. "Every time you see it, you think; 'Goodness gracious, that boy came from Holt!' It just shows you what can be achieved. He is an inspiration to everyone at the club."

Tonight's third-place play-off against Argentina will be Youngs' 17th match at a Rugby World Cup and his third appearance of this tournament, with Borthwick opting to use Mitchell and Danny Care more frequently during England's run to the semi-finals.

Having said that, when he has been called upon like against Japan in the pool stages, Youngs' class has shone through.

"I always thought Ben would go [to this World Cup]," Bush says. "Somebody with his experience with three previous World Cups, a Lions tour, and all the rest of it, it would have been a bit foolish to leave someone with that experience out even if he isn't first or second choice. To have him in the group will have been a big advantage to Borthwick, I would have thought."

And it might not just have been the coaching group who have benefitted from Youngs being at his fourth World Cup. Bush agrees the scrum-half will no doubt have imparted some of his wisdom onto Mitchell and may well have done the same in recent years with England's other options at No.9 like Van Poortvliet, Raffi Quirke and Harry Randall.

"He loves to help anyone he can," Bush explains. "He is a first-class chap even if those guys were trying to get the shirt off his back! I don't think he would begrudge them that at all."

Youngs' longevity and durability at the highest level is an obvious indication of his quality as a player but it also perhaps speaks volumes about his character.

The scrum-half has worked under four different England head coaches but has nearly always been a constant when it comes to squad selection while away from the field, his decision to turn down a place on the 2017 Lions tour to be with his brother Tom and his wife Tiffany as she fought cancer is a testament to the person Youngs is.

And that sentiment is echoed by Bush: "Ben is a very grounded young man, as is his brother Tom and the whole family [who are all connected to Holt RFC]. He has kept a very close friendship with the club and we are very proud to be associated with him.

"That decision [for Youngs not to go on the Lions tour] was a hell of a decision to make but he did the right thing in his mind. I have got nothing but admiration for the lad. He is one of the best".

Bush admits to riding the rollercoaster of emotions created by Youngs' career whether that be the highest of highs in becoming England's most-capped men's player to witnessing the lowest of lows like the 2015 World Cup.

But tonight will most definitely be a night of celebration.

Youngs has already etched his name into rugby folklore forever and when he takes to the field at the Stade de France this evening, those connected to Holt RFC will be able to burst with pride for the 127th and final time.

"I am so pleased he is going to be starting for his last game," Bush says. "I remember meeting Eddie Jones before the 2019 World Cup and he said to me; 'The first coach is the most important coach because they can make or break you as a player.' 

"You couldn't really call me a rugby coach but I was just there to enable Ben and the kids to run around and have a game and do the best they could. Any of them who got any enjoyment out of it, that was what we were there for. I think Ben has enjoyed every game he has played since - I hope he has anyway! I have certainly enjoyed watching him.

"Tonight there will be a huge amount of pride and a huge amount of sadness that his international career has come to an end. It has been a hell of a ride. Ben has been at the forefront of the rugby world for England. It will be sad we won't see him again but on the other hand, a lot of joy and happiness for what he has achieved and he is going out on top and on his own terms.

"I usually send Ben a text before every game and I will wish him well tonight for sure."

In sport, the term legend can be bandied about but in relation to one of Holt RFC's very own, it quite simply is the only way to describe Ben Youngs.

"Of course he is a legend," Bush concludes. "Anybody who breaks the England men's cap record has got to be a legend before it is broken again. I suppose [Owen] Farrell is coming up a bit quick now and he might be the next one to overtake but anyone who plays 127 times for England has got to be a legend haven't they?"