Ben Youngs set his sights on surpassing Jason Leonard’s England caps record after inspiring England to a Six Nations-clinching victory on his 100th appearance.
The 31-year-old scrum-half scored tries in the opening exchanges of both halves as England downed Italy 34-5 in Rome, which proved enough to clinch the Six Nations title as Ireland came unstuck against France.
The triumph came as the fourth Six Nations championship success for the experienced half-back, and it was his second try that set the victory in motion after a defiant Italian display dragged England into something of a dogfight.
It gave the England squad reason to be grateful for Youngs’ presence in the side, but he revealed afterwards how the team had already shown their appreciation in a way that meant significantly more than any Six Nations championship could.
“I was very kindly given a gold cap, like a trophy, and an amazing watch from all the boys which was engraved. It was an incredible touch and something that I wasn’t expecting,” Youngs said.
“It was a great presentation from Eddie and Owen (Farrell) and I will now reflect and enjoy this moment.
“Jamie George won his 50th cap and there were debuts for Jonny Hill, Ollie Thorley, Ollie Lawrence and Tom Dunn. The boys are in high spirits and we will enjoy each other’s company.”
With all eyes on Youngs as he followed in the footsteps of Leonard in becoming only the second male player to reach 100 England caps, Jones set the Leicester Tigers scrum-half the target of going on to add another 50 to his name. Age-wise, Youngs certainly has time on his side, and having been an ever-present in the England team for the last decade, no one has been able to permanently usurp him from the No 9 shirt.
But with Dan Robson and young gun Alex Mitchell currently pushing him hard for his place in the starting XV, Youngs knows it will be no easy task to maintain the remarkable run of longevity.
“I’m up for it, absolutely,” Youngs added. “All the hard work allows me to get the privilege to run out on a Saturday and that will never change – I will be back out on Monday on the grind.
“This is a great milestone, but certainly not one that will make me take my foot off the gas. I love being part of this group, it’s exciting times. For me this week has been about focusing on my performance and fulfilling my role. I wanted to limit the distractions.
“I have had some unbelievable messages from people getting in touch – from ex-players, team-mates and guys I have played against from other countries for years.
“That means the most to me as they know how hard it is to achieve it and getting that recognition from those boys means a lot.”
“I didn’t want to build it up too much during the week. I will try and absorb the achievement with the boys, I’m very proud. The most important thing for me was to play a part in this team. It’s a nice milestone, but I have the desire to kick on.”
Jones paid tribute to Youngs for reaching the milestone in style, though reiterated his challenge not to let the foot off the pedal after helping England to championship glory.
“It’s always nice for a player to play well in their 100th game,” Jones said. “He scored a couple of nice tries, one a beautiful traditional half-back try backing up the centre of the field and another off some good go-forward ball.
“He’ll feel good about this game, the whole team feels good about him getting to 100 caps and now we want him to go on and get to 150. It’s a massive achievement and we’re so proud of him.
“I’m very proud of all the players and staff. They’ve reacted superbly to the changing situations in the past couple of weeks and remained focused on the goal of winning the Guinness Six Nations.
“We’ll have a couple of days rest then get back together later next week and put everything we have into our preparation for the Autumn Nations Cup. It’s another really important tournament for us and I’ll be expecting the same levels of application as we work towards performing at our best.
“We’d also like to thank all of our supporters. It’s strange not having fans in the stadium and we know it is a tough time for the country but we felt your support throughout the campaign and it does make a difference. Hopefully we can continue to deliver more good moments for our fans in the coming weeks.”