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    All hail the Roman centurion! England skipper Owen Farrell leads tributes to Ben Youngs as he prepares to make his 100th Test appearance against Italy in the Six Nations

    • Owen Farrell has led the tributes to England’s Ben Youngs ahead of 100th test
    • Youngs will play in the Six Nations decider against Italy at the Stadio Olimpico
    • He will become the second English player in history to reach 100 caps
    • Farrell says Youngs has an ‘infectious energy’ which drives the team forward   

    Owen Farrell led the tributes to England’s Roman centurion as Ben Youngs prepared to make a 100th Test appearance for his country in the Italian capital.

    When Eddie Jones announced his line-up for the Six Nations decider against Italy at the Stadio Olimpico, there was no surprise in the identity of the starting scrum-half.

    Youngs has dominated that position in the national team for several years and the 31-year-old’s desire to play on for a long time to come was endorsed by his head coach.

    Ben Youngs will make a 100th Test appearance for England against Italy in Six Nations

    In the absence of George Ford, England captain Farrell will resume a familiar half-back partnership with Youngs and he expressed admiration for the veteran Tiger’s historic personal feat. ‘It speaks for itself in terms of being only the second English player to reach 100 caps,’ he said. ‘He’s still young too.

    ‘I remember when we were coming through as youngsters. He got a call-up to the England team at an early age and he made an impact straight away, which was impressive for me, when I was coming through as an academy player.

    ‘Then coming into camp and getting to play with him — he has an infectious energy which drives the team forward. He also has a love of playing for England in those big games, which makes him someone that you want to play with.’

    Youngs made his debut a decade ago, during Martin Johnson’s tenure as England manager, and he has been a fixture ever since.

    Owen Farrell has led the the tributes for Youngs - who will play in the Six Nations decider

    Owen Farrell has led the the tributes for Youngs – who will play in the Six Nations decider

    Jones expressed admiration for his ability to come through a tough period in his career and reach the heights again — while also setting him a future target. ‘I can only speak with great admiration of Benny,’ said Jones. 

    ‘He had a difficult World Cup in 2015 and since then has worked extremely hard on his game. At his best he’s close to the best half-back in the world, he’s got a great running game, good kicking game and is an important character in our squad.’

    Speaking to the BBC, he added: ‘He has been outstanding for us and he continues to get better. This is his 100th cap and there’s no reason why he can’t get to 150. That’s the goal for him.’

    In the absence of George Ford, Farrell will resume a half-back partnership with Young

    In the absence of George Ford, Farrell will resume a half-back partnership with Young

    The England squad will have ample motivation, as they take on Italy knowing that an emphatic, bonus-point win could propel them to the championship title. But they will also seek to deliver a statement performance as a means of celebrating their No 9’s epic milestone.

    ‘Ninety-nine caps is unreal,’ said Henry Slade. ‘It is an unbelievable achievement. It is a credit to his professionalism. He’s been a massive leader in this squad for a long time, an integral part of the group on and off the field. To see him get a hundred is really special and hopefully we can do a job for him.’

    This match will mark Farrell’s first appearance for club or country since being sent off for Saracens and banned for a wild, high tackle on Wasps’ Charlie Atkinson last month. The national skipper admitted that he has taken stock and is determined to avoid a repeat of such recklessness, while not quelling his aggressive, competitive streak.

    ‘No one wants to be involved in an incident like that which ends up the way it did, with a player getting injured and myself getting sent off,’ he said. ‘Obviously there was not real intent to do that. That was never what I was trying to do, but at the same time that is what happened and you have a good look at yourself when that happens.

    ‘I don’t want to make that mistake again. I just have to make sure that I’m more in control and that doesn’t take away from my game. I’m looking to be myself out there.’

    Youngs made his debut a decade ago, during Martin Johnson’s tenure as England manager

    Youngs made his debut a decade ago, during Martin Johnson’s tenure as England manager

    Jones expressed admiration for Jones' ability to come through a tough period in his career

    Jones expressed admiration for Jones’ ability to come through a tough period in his career

    With several key players unavailable due to injury, Jones picked a largely experienced side to face Italy, but with one debutant in the pack — Exeter lock Jonny Hill, who was an influential figure in the Chiefs’ charge to a domestic and European Double.

    Asked to evaluate the newcomer, the head coach said: ‘Jonny’s a big, tall guy who hits hard and carries hard. He’s a no-nonsense player in the George Kruis mould. With George going (to Japan), we needed a centre-of-the-lineout jumper, a big guy who can win you ball in the middle of the lineout and also be very good at setting up mauls and disrupting mauls. He has had a great run for Exeter.

    ‘We brought him into the team for the 2018 South Africa tour. He was a little bit off the mark there, but he has continued to develop and in just a couple of days training he has shown he has learned a lot over the last 12 months.’

    Jones dismissed doubts about the wisdom of selecting George Furbank at full-back, after a difficult few months for the Northampton rookie, who has endured a slump in form and confidence. ‘Selection is always about judgment,’ said Jones. ‘I think he’s a very good player. We’re really happy with what he did in the Six Nations. He had a difficult game against France, which the whole team did, but he responded very well in the Scotland game.

    ‘What we’re seeing from George is that application and desire to keep getting better. He’s been a stand-out in our preparation and his authority at the back has been improving steadily.’ 

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