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ROME, Oct 31 (Reuters) - As if becoming only the second man to win 100 England caps was not enough for a memorable day, scrumhalf Ben Youngs marked the occasion with two superb tries as England beat Italy 34-5 in Rome to move to pole position in the Six Nations title hunt.
Youngs followed Jason Leonard as England’s second centurion on Saturday and was on the scoreboard after five minutes when he chased Owen Farrell’s kick to open the scoring.
England laboured to reach halftime 10-5 ahead but it was Youngs again who kickstarted their improvement when he threw a dummy at the base of a ruck, then another to wrong-foot an Italian defender and score his second soon after the restart.
England ran in three further tries to secure the all-important bonus point that, depending on the result between France and Ireland in Paris, could be enough to secure a third title in five years.
“I didn’t want to build it up too much in the week, I just wanted to focus on the process of playing, that was the most important thing for us,” said man-of-the-match Youngs.
“I’m very proud but the most important thing for me was to perform for the team.
“It’s a nice milestone but I’ve got the desire to kick on and with all these young caps coming in it’s an exciting time.”
Youngs is hardly a veteran at 31 but he has experienced the highs and lows of international rugby since making his debut off the bench as a winger in a Six Nations draw with Scotland 10 years ago.
Having established himself as starting scrumhalf he endured the pain of England’s disappointing 2011 and 2015 World Cup campaigns but also the high of the British and Irish Lions series win in Australia, playing alongside his brother Tom.
When Eddie Jones took over England after the 2015 tournament he had a now-famous exchange about Youngs’s future.
“It started off really well, he was really complimentary and I thought, ‘this is going alright here’”, Youngs said when recounting his first meeting with the Australian, who then asked him why he wasn’t the best scrumhalf in the world.
“I must have suggested five things and he said ‘no, you need to lose four or five kilos mate, you’re too fat, you’re not quick enough’. He chucked me a bag of sweets and went ‘do you want them?’ I said ‘no’ and he said ‘mate, that’s a great start’.”
Youngs took it to heart and having convinced Jones of his talent - and fitness - was a key player in England’s run to last year’s World Cup final.
Despite Youngs having tough times in a struggling Leicester team recently, Jones never lost faith and the fat boy-turned England centurion has paid him back handsomely.
Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Ed Osmond
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