Tom Youngs, the Leicester Tigers and England hooker takes time out to speak to Ape to Gentleman about dreams, rugby at the sports‘ elite level and life.
AG: With the Rugby World Cup beginning next month, as a boy did you believe you would one day be playing for your country in such a prestigious tournament? Or was it a distant dream?
TY: A distant dream. I think when you’re younger you just love playing rugby and love watching it and you don’t really think about it, but as time went on and I started to realise that I was alright at this game, the more and more the dream got to be about trying to achieve something like this. But you know, World Cups only come around every four years and a lot can happen in four years, injury or not being selected, so it is very special to be here now.
AG: Rugby players are seen in general as sportsman with the highest levels of integrity on the pitch. Which is the greatest example of gentlemanly conduct that you have seen on or off the pitch in rugby?
TY: You see it in every game to be honest. I think, you know we go hard at each other, we really do fly in to each other and stuff like that, but at the end of the game we shake hands say well done, ask ‘How’s the family?’ and have a good chitchat. It’s fantastic to go up and have some food after and have some general chat and it’s really nice to get to know people that you play against. Most of the time you have a lot of stuff in common, so it’s really nice.
AG: Playing elite rugby must be brutal on the body; it’s a testament to your strength and character that you maintain such a professional approach. What keeps you going? Drive for success? Teammates? Passion for your country? Or something else?
TY: The strength and character on the pitch are a result of all those things. There’s drive you get from the prospect of earning the chance to represent your country, then when you’re playing for England, actually fulfilling that chance gives you a massive drive as well. Your teammates, you’re driving hard so you can make sure you perform well for them and they perform well for you, you are there to back each other up. Then there is obviously the drive for success, success is what we all strive for in life, and then I think you can add family and friends in to that; you do a lot to support each other off the pitch. Because of the sacrifices you have to make as well as the sacrifices your family makes, you definitely play well for them and to represent them. That’s a nice feeling to have.
AG: If there were one piece of advice you could give to anyone, what would it be?
TY: Enjoy the moment. Generally in life as people, we are always moving and jumping on to something else but we should just enjoy any moment, because it soon goes by and is gone.
It is also the case in Rugby, we are in a high pressure cooker and if things don’t go quite so well sometimes we can be our own worse critics but sometimes we should actually just enjoy it, enjoy the moment and worry about the rest later on. That is definitely something that I have experienced – when I’ve been too hard on myself and not enjoyed it as much as I have wanted to, but I have addressed that now, I really try to enjoy the moment and a win and enjoy being with my mates and team mates, it’s a great feeling.
AG: How important is teammate support on and off the pitch?
TY: Teammate support is hugely important. It’s what gets us through the tough sessions we have. On the pitch we have to back each other up, either side of you, you want your man right there, because if there is one chink in the armour, something is going to go wrong and someone is going to score.
Off the pitch, we are great mates and we understand when one of our mates isn’t feeling great or he’s not quite himself. You go and ask them what’s wrong, and offer support. I think that’s the great thing about rugby, the team support. You back each other up.
It’s a sport that has some great morals in it, which you can learn a lot from – you learn life lessons on the pitch that you can take off it, such as having respect from your opponent.