Brothers in arms
PUBLISHED: 12:00 10 August 2015
Born three years apart into a rough and tumble, farming family, England rugby stars Tom and Ben Youngs spent much of their youth in impromptu matches on their farm near Aylsham. It was a good introduction to the physical demands of a sport for which they have become household names. As they prepare to meet up with the England squad in preparation for the Rugby World Cup on home turf in September, they tell Rachel Buller how much they treasure family time back home in Norfolk.
The kitchen at the Youngs’ family farm is bursting with noise and activity. Mum Patricia, known as Trot, is attempting to round up the numerous dogs - including the aptly named Rugby - for a walk, while Ben is telling dad Nick about his recent honeymoon in Cephalonia.
Just a few days later the boys - who both play for Leicester Tigers and who were in the England line-up for the Six Nations championship this spring - will meet up with the England rugby squad, and they are laughing about whether they have gained any weight during their break. “The extra work you have to do is horrendous; it’s just not worth it,” laughs Ben.
It’s been hard not to over-indulge this summer though with plenty to celebrate, including Ben’s wedding in Norfolk to Charlotte. “I was just an usher,” laughs Tom. “I don’t think he trusted me to do the best man speech.”
Tom especially is always keen to get back to life on the farm during breaks from the game, saying: “Usually I am back in July to help with the harvest.”
Nestled in the north Norfolk landscape, it is not hard to see why it is a perfect place to escape the pressures of the game at national and international level.
“You are in your own little bubble. I love taking the dogs out on the quad bike across the fields and shutting everything out,” says Ben.
The preliminary England World Cup squad will meet together before heading to the USA for a training camp. Then the final 31 strong squad is announced at the end of August.
For Tom, involvement in the tournament will mark a happy end to a tough 18 months, both personally and professionally. Last year, his wife Tiffany was diagnosed with serious illness, leading him to pull out of England’s tour of New Zealand. Then on his comeback in the autumn, he suffered a shoulder injury.
He describes his decision to pull out as a “no brainer” and says that Tiffany is doing well now. “It has had a huge impact on how I see things and certainly puts life into perspective. There are more important things than rugby,” says Tom. “But when I finally played for England again, I know it was fantastic for Tiffany to see me back in the jersey.”
Rugby was in the boys’ blood. Dad Nick also played for Leicester Tigers and England, and the brothers played together as children on a makeshift pitch on the farm.
“It didn’t matter what age you were – it was full contact. Anything went, it was brutal,” laughs Tom. “We had about 26 cousins and me and Ben were among the youngest, so we had to learn very quickly to look after ourselves. At school I had a lot of natural aggression and rugby was fantastic for harnessing that energy. I started as a six-year-old and never looked back.”
The boys played junior rugby for Holt and North Walsham and were in the Gresham’s School team. Ben says their shared experiences on the rugby field have made them even closer: “There is no competition between us. We already have the most amazing memories, running out together at some of the most incredible stadiums in front of huge crowds. They are things we can talk about for years long after we have retired.”
Both have recently become first-time fathers - Tom to 19-month-old Maisie, and Ben to nine-month-old Boris.
“It has changed everything,” says Tom. “We have every Wednesday off during the season, and before I had Maisie I would still often go in, now I treasure having that time with her.”
Ben adds: “Boris is suddenly everywhere as he is crawling, I can’t take my eyes off him for a moment. Having a baby has given me a new motivation. I absolutely love being a dad and want him to have the childhood I had, that same sense of freedom.”
Both are incredibly excited about the World Cup and say it can only help boost the sport’s profile.
“Having watched the London Olympics and seen how much people got behind the athletes, it is so exciting for us to be part of something similar on home soil. The support here for us is massive and we really feel we are representing Norfolk when we pull on our jerseys,” says Tom.