BEN YOUNGS believes England are playing at their highest level yet under Eddie Jones, leaving them perfectly placed to “embrace” the challenge of ending Wales’ record-breaking winning run.
The Leicester Tigers scrum-half was hugely influential in Sunday’s 44-8 rout of France at Twickenham, a resounding victory that leaves them on course for another Six Nations championship success.
On the back of a stunning opening win at holders and favourites Ireland in Dublin, England seem reinvigorated and ready to repeat the heroics of 2016 when they secured a first Grand Slam since 2003.
That was the first year of Australian Jones’ reign and part of a record-equalling 18-Test winning sequence. Asked if the French destruction was the highest level of performance they had ever produced under the head coach, Youngs said: “From what I remember since I’ve been involved with Eddie, yes.
“Probably not higher intensity, just more consistent within it.
“Maybe that’s maturity, personnel, I’m not sure.
It’s certainly great fun out there. You can probably see it; one to 23 guys are thriving and loving being part of the team.Ben Youngs
“It’s certainly great fun out there. You can probably see it; one to 23 guys are thriving and loving being part of the team.
“I thought we came up with a game-plan and executed it really well.”
Now they must do so again against a Wales side who equalled their own record run of 11 successive Test wins with a 26-15 victory against Italy in Rome.
Warren Gatland’s team will, then, break a record set in 1910 if they also beat England in the cauldron atmosphere of Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on Saturday week and keep their own dreams of a Slam alive.
“They’ve on a good run aren’t they?” admitted Youngs, who scored when England won in Cardiff two years ago on the way to their last Six Nations title.
“It’s going to be a great two weeks. This is what the Championship is about; there is always certain games it comes down to.
“We are going to embrace and enjoy the big two-week build-up.
“We have a few days to get away from camp and spend time with the families, then when we get in on Wednesday, we will build it up.”
Gatland has already said it will be a Championship decider but Youngs, 29, insisted: “(Sunday) was a Championship decider, the same in a fortnight’s time.
“We will take every game as it comes but certainly this one is hugely exciting. Over the next few days we will reflect and review the France game – the coaches will go through it with a fine comb – then we will have a chat and figure out a gameplan for Wales.”
Youngs and fly-half Owen Farrell delivered a masterclass with their tactical kicking, continually turning France and finding space for the likes of winger Jonny May who scored a hat-trick inside just 29 minutes.
It looked like they had the ball on a string and the British Lion scrum-half conceded: “At times it does, when you have that much momentum through the physicality of the ball-carriers.
“Courtney (Lawes) got us on the front foot numerous times, so did Billy and Mako (Vunipola), and on the back of that you’re able to put the team in the right areas.
“Owen, Elliot (Daly) and myself were able to do that through the hard work of the forwards.
“I thought our ability to keep patient with that gameplan was great; to keep turning them with so many numbers in the line, they leave the backfield exposed. Jonny, Ashy (Chris Ashton), Jack (Nowell), their ability chase it and hound them down was key to getting the result.”
With such pace and verve out wide, and the aforementioned precision kicking, there was little need for the traditional England forward game to wear down France.
With what happened in Dublin, too, it could be suggested English rugby is being re-written on Jones’ watch.
“Well I think we’ve just got to get the balance right,” insisted Youngs.
“Because English rugby is set-piece, so we’ve got to get that absolutely fundamentally right, and obviously a physical defence.
“Then you need some gold dust in the back line to try and unlock teams and I think Elliot, Sladey (Henry Slade) and obviously Jonny have been able to do that. If you told me that that was going to be the scoreline against a team that can be extremely dangerous on their day then I’d have taken it.”