On the occasion of his 50th cap, scrum-half Ben Youngs displayed much of the inconsistency that has inhibited him from really progressing during his international career.
Following England's 35-11 victory over Fiji, Coach Stuart Lancaster has causes for concern. Amidst an efficient yet alarmingly inaccurate display, the hosts proceeded with a bonus point victory, accompanied by many areas for improvement.
Lancaster would have expected an element of nerves, rustiness and inaccuracy and at some point during the tournament; he should have relied upon a mediocre performance from his starting scrum-half.
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Throughout his 50 caps, Youngs has become an increasingly frustrating figure. A match-winner on his day, the Leicester captain has always struggled to produce a string of dominant performances.
At his best Youngs is a significant threat to opposition defences. With his physical stature and pace off the mark he has always possessed the ability to change games; think the 55-35 thriller over France or the 21-20 victory over Australia in his first international start.
To coin Lancaster, Youngs’ ‘point of difference’ is his running game and attacking instincts. As such, dips in form are inevitable, however; it is the lack of middle ground to his game that still makes him an unreliable figure.
All too regularly he follows up game defining performances with a display like last Friday. From allowing the first kick-off to bounce to firing his first pass at George Ford’s ankles, Youngs has reopened the debate at scrum-half.
Having replaced Youngs on 52 minutes, Richard Wigglesworth proceeded to pose questions to Lancaster. In an accurate and attacking display, the Saracens scrum-half showcased both how his game has evolved, and how he has more to offer than a reliable left foot.
Wigglesworth was undoubtedly aided by tiring opposition and an increasingly physical England pack in the latter stages, following the introductions of Joe Launchbury and Billy Vunipola; both of whom will be in serious consideration to start next Saturday against Wales.
Changes for next weekend are more unlikely in the half-backs. Youngs is experienced and is unlikely to perform that badly again. When the England pack dominates, the 26-year-old is a perennial problem for the opposition’s back-row, enabling Ford to play flatter. With both Wales and Australia possessing the ability to field two genuine open-sides, England will need to pose a threat around the fringes.
Wigglesworth’s reliability and crucial kicking game in the latter stages of games mean he will be part of each match-day squad, whether starting or more likely on the bench.
Youngs will still be given the nod over long-term rival Danny Care, however; a repeat performance of last night could have serious consequences for both the former personally and England’s chances of progressing.
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