Ben Youngs: Friends and family reflect on his longevity as he becomes England's most-capped player

The man who has become England's most-capped rugby union player reached the top of the game through a combination of sheer determination and a sprinkling of good fortune, say those who know him best.

Ben Youngs broke the record for the most appearances for the national team when he took to the field in the Six Nations match against Wales, setting a new benchmark of 115 caps.

It comes in a trophy-laden international career that has seen the Leicester scrum-half play at three World Cups, including one final, win four Six Nations titles and one Grand Slam, and four Premiership titles.

His recent motivation has been a desire to bring some light to his family during a dark time, with his brother Tom having taken indefinite leave from the game in October. He left to look after his wife Tiffany, who was diagnosed with blood cancer in 2014 and had recovered before falling ill again recently.

But the younger Youngs has always had the hunger to succeed, and the 32-year-old's success is no surprise to friends, former team-mates and coaches, who have known him since he started out as a youngster growing up near Holt in Norfolk.

Ben Pienaar, who used to play with Youngs at Leicester and is now the director of rugby at Gresham's School, where Youngs attended, said his success could be put down to two things "sheer determination and the love of rugby".

England's Ben Youngs breaks away to score his sides second try during the Guinness Six Nations match in Rome in 2020. Credit: PA

"He's a phenomenal athlete," he said. "He looks after himself and he's a true professional. Anyone would say it's the fact that he plays with a smile on his face - I think that's the biggest thing that gets him through."

That is a view echoed by James Knight, a childhood friend and now director of rugby at North Walsham Rugby Club, who cites Youngs' stubbornness as the key to his longevity.

"The amount of times he's been written off by people, and he's just got the hunger to keep turning up, keep performing and hit those records," he said.

But Youngs' uncle Simon Worrall notes two other crucial ingredients in his success - "a bit of luck", and a strong relationship with Eddie Jones, the England coach for the past seven years.

It was not always that way, but Youngs proved his determination after early concerns over his fitness.

Ben Youngs will become England's most-capped player on his next appearance. Credit: PA

Jones told ITV Sport: "He wasn't in the best condition and we had to give him a bit of an ultimatum. He's taken taking that on board worked hard got himself super-fit.

"And the work he does with our young halfbacks now is incredible.

"He knows that [Harry] Randall and [Raffi] Quirke want his spot but he's out there practising their box kicks with them, talking with them about the game.

"He's a real role model for a senior player."

Youngs has played under three different England head coaches during a 14-year Test career – Martin Johnson, Stuart Lancaster and Eddie Jones – and only Australian great George Gregan has won more caps for his country as a scrum-half.