Ben Youngs believes rediscovering his love for rugby by stripping away the toil demanded of a modern player has presented the chance to argue his case for permanent England selection.
The collapse in Danny Care’s international form has seen Youngs reinstated at scrum-half, a position he filled for two Tests during the summer tour to New Zealand but only in the injury-enforced absence of his rival from Harlequins.
Youngs’s grip on the No 9 jersey began to loosen last autumn and he even failed to make the bench for this year’s Six Nations.
Now the resurgent 25-year-old stand-in Leicester captain has been asked to help sharpen England’s attack in tomorrow’s must-win QBE International against Samoa at Twickenham.
“The biggest thing for me was to get back on track, find that spark again, find that thing that got me there in the first place, which was playing rugby and enjoying it,” said Youngs.
“I was struggling for form and I didn’t know how to get out of that rut because I hadn’t been in that situation before.
“I found myself training longer, kicking longer, passing for longer, doing more weights – anything to find a way through. In fact the best thing I could have done was to have done nothing.
“You know what, I’m going to strip it right back to the minimum and focus on enjoying the performance at the weekend. For me, it was about getting my mind right.
“When I was younger that naivety was the best thing – you just play what you see and don’t worry about the consequences because you didn’t understand them. Coming back to that a little bit certainly helps.”
Youngs insists the experience of having fallen out of favour with England has given him a useful perspective on dealing with pressure and the prospect of failure.
“Some guys haven’t been through a dark patch but they will at some point because everyone does,” said the 42-cap international.
“When you do come through it, you realise that if you play awfully badly then you can come through it and get back out the other end. You have an appreciation that you can stay relaxed, not go out there with fear because you realise that this is what works for you, although it doesn’t work for everyone. Whatever rocks your boat, just go out and enjoy it.”
Youngs joins George Ford in a new half-back partnership selected against Samoa as Stuart Lancaster takes the opportunity to test an alternative combination to the Care-Farrell axis that under-performed in the defeats by New Zealand and South Africa.
Ford has been told to “boss” the show by Lancaster and Youngs knows the 21-year-old is capable of providing the authority his head coach demands following their time together at Welford Road.
“Like Owen, George is a young guy who plays as if he’s been around for ages. I won’t need to put my arm round George or anything like that,” continued Youngs.
“If anything, I’ll just give him the ball early to let him get into the game because that’s what you want when you have been waiting for an opportunity. Get him in the game and let him play.”