With a Lions tour on the horizon and spots on the plane to New Zealand firmly up for grabs, England Grand Slam winner Ben Youngs is convinced next month’s Six Nations will be brutal.
To make matters worse, Youngs insists Eddie Jones’ England will have a target on their backs after racking up 14 consecutive wins and going through 2016 unbeaten as they lifted the Six Nations title and also won a Test series against Australia Down Under.
England are perennially regarded as the prized scalp of the Championships but after a record-breaking 12 months under their new Aussie coach, Youngs is predicting sides will be desperate to end their unbeaten run.
The last 12 months, however, has seen the rest of the Northern Hemisphere catching up, with Ireland’s first victory over New Zealand for 111 years prompting plenty of attention.
Couple that with Scotland, Italy, France and Wales’ abundance of impressive displays against the Southern Hemisphere elite this autumn and it’s no surprise Youngs already has plenty of focus on February 4 against Les Bleus.
But beyond the Twickenham opener with France, the Leicester Tiger is undeniably keeping one eye on a potentially greater carrot – a chance for a second British & Irish Lions tour this summer after featuring in Australia four years ago.
“If you look across the board, it should be one of the most competitive Six Nations to be a part of,” said Youngs, speaking on behalf of Land Rover, the long-term supporter of rugby at all levels, from grassroots to the elite.
“It’s going to be fantastic, each team has had some impressive performances and some big results. We know that’s going to lead to some big competition.
“Each will be massive test, France first up is a battle and Italy always gives it their all and is getting results to go with it.
“Whatever happens and whoever wins, it’s going to be exciting. You look at every nation and there are plenty of strengths, they’re all in good form.
“There’s no hiding that the Lions is the golden egg at the end, every player will be doing their all and history shows a team that’s successful in a Six Nations has good Lions representation.”
Following their first Grand Slam since World Cup glory in 2003, pressure is now on Youngs and co to hit the ground running this time around.
But with a squad continually going from strength to strength, the signs are in place for Jones to keep up his winning record with the Australian yet experiencing defeat as head coach.
And with Youngs enjoying a similarly impressive record – losing just four of his 26 RBS 6 Nations matches to date – the 27-year-old is clear of the exact approach to take to make sure it doesn’t come to an end any time soon.
He added: “We’ve got this unbeaten run, but we want to make sure we’re attacking that and not defending it, and that’s something Eddie has been really big on.
“We need to make sure we go after it, going out to win in instead of holding on to it, but that’s going to be tough.
“But more importantly we need that momentum. The sides who win the Six Nations are the ones with the most momentum so it’s important to get off to a good start and not look too far beyond the task.
“This side is ambitious, it wants to carry on improving and kicking on from last season.”
Despite being England’s player of the autumn, Youngs’ battle for the No.9 jersey is not completely unopposed with Danny Care among those battling in the wings.
And with Billy and Mako Vunipola and Chris Robshaw ruled out of action, strength in numbers will once again be forced back to the fore.
But the scrum-half insists he wouldn’t have it any other way, delighted to be part of a particular asset in the Red Rose’s armoury.
“The great thing about England is the strength in depth that we have,” Youngs explained. “We had a number of injuries, but the one thing that seems to be ever-present is having two or three pushing for each position.
“And to be back involved with something like that is really exciting.
“You still get that buzz every time you see your name on there, it makes you realise that the tournament is just around the corner and we’re all really excited.”
Ben Youngs is a Land Rover ambassador. Land Rover continues to champion grassroots rugby through its We Deal in Real campaign. @LandRoverRugby #WeDealInReal