Meyer feared for Tom Youngs

2013-05-29 10:14
Tom Youngs (AFP)

Durban - Heyneke Meyer feared he had ruined Tom Youngs' career when he persuaded the Englishman to switch from centre to hooker. The Springbok coach can probably rest easy now.

Youngs touched down in Hong Kong on Tuesday, one of 37 British and Irish Lions preparing for Saturday's match against the Barbarians before heading on for the tour of Australia.

His inclusion amongst the elite of the home nations almost certainly would not have happened had Meyer not arrived for a short spell in charge of English club side Leicester in 2008.

Meyer was convinced a move to the middle of the front row would be a better fit, Youngs agreed and both were proved right when the 26-year-old went on to make his England debut in the number two shirt against Fiji last November.

"At first I was worried that I might have wrecked his career because others didn't necessarily believe in his move to hooker, but Tom never stopped believing and kept on working hard to succeed," Meyer told Reuters in Durban.

"Although I thought he would be a good centre, I knew he could be a world class hooker, as he has all the attributes to succeed in that position.

"He is mentally tough, a strong ball carrier, has lots of speed, a great feel for the game and superb defence.

"I knew he could make the conversion, because he had the hunger to play at highest level, was willing to listen and to work very hard to achieve his dream."

Meyer is quick to hand the credit for the success of the move to the hard work put in by Youngs but says he has taken some satisfaction in watching how the player has grown into the role.

"I don't want to take credit for this, because he was the one who believed in the move and, along with others, made a success of it," he said.

"However, when he was selected to play for England, I got a letter from his parents thanking me for what I've done for him, which was a very special moment in my career as I've coached thousands of players and to get a thank you letter like that one, it stood out.

"I've moved quite a few players in my career, but what impressed me most about Tom was that he immediately said 'yes' when we discussed his move from centre to hooker, because he wanted to play test rugby.

"I was ecstatic when I heard he was selected for the British and Irish Lions to tour Australia and I think it is just reward for a player that never looked back when he decided to make the change in position.

"I think he can achieve a lot more in his career, as he has all the attributes needed to succeed at the top."

Youngs will be one of three hookers in Australia along with Welshman Richard Hibbard and Ireland's Rory Best in an evenly matched race for a starting spot in the first test on June 22 in Brisbane.

Son of Nick, a former England scrumhalf, and older brother to Ben, who plays with him at Leicester, England and is also on the Lions tour, Youngs was initially farmed out to lower league club Nottingham to learn the dark arts of the front row.

He returned to Leicester in 2009 and has enjoyed a meteoric rise, named English Premiership Player of the Year earlier this month and helping Leicester to a 10th title last weekend at Twickenham.

Youngs said he never thought twice about following Meyer's suggestion.

"I never ever doubted the wisdom of making the move," Youngs told the Daily Telegraph last week.

"I told my dad that even if it meant that I never went back to Leicester it was still the right thing to do. I've enjoyed the whole journey. Mind you, I never thought it would end here with the Lions."

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