Ben Youngs has been hailed as “an important, infectious member of our squad” by England coach Eddie Jones ahead of the scrum-half’s 100th appearance for his country.
Youngs is to bring up his century against Italy on Super Saturday, joining Jason Leonard in an exclusive club of England internationals to have hit three figures.
“I can only speak with great admiration of Ben,” Jones said.
“He had a difficult World Cup in 2015 and since then he’s worked extremely hard on his game.
“At his best he’s close to the best half-backs in the world. He’s got a great running game, good kicking game and he’s an important, infectious character in our squad.”
Youngs burst on to the scene at a young age and appeared destined for stardom from the moment he became the youngest Leicester Tigers player to make a league appearance for the club, coming on for his debut at the age of 17 years and 231 days.
He remains the youngest player to have featured in an English Premiership final and made his international bow in an unfamiliar position on the wing, replacing the injured Ugo Monye for the final 25 minutes of a Calcutta Cup clash at BT Murrayfield in 2010.
Back in the No.9 shirt from then on, the 31-year-old has gone on to play a crucial role in three Championship-winning England sides, appearing in all five matches of the Red Rose’s Grand Slam success of 2016, and will be hoping to claim a fourth title this weekend.
Owen Farrell has been part of the same England side for the majority of Youngs’ international journey and the pair will again link up at half-back in Rome on Super Saturday.
“Everybody knows how good a player Ben is,” Farrell said.
“Not only for what he’s doing in recent times, but for how long he’s been doing it.
“I remember he was in the England team when I was coming through, he was in at a very young age and stepped up to the plate very quickly. He’s obviously been doing it ever since.
“He’s brilliant to play with, a great driver of energy throughout the team, which is great for a scrum-half. He keeps pace very well and gets the team on the front foot.”
Youngs is also among a select few who have had the privilege of playing international rugby alongside a sibling, with his brother Tom a regular feature in the England pack between 2012 and 2015.
The pair also play together at Leicester Tigers, where Tom is club captain, and the elder Youngs brother said: “It’s an incredible achievement and I’m so proud of Ben and what he has done in the game for Leicester, the Lions and England.
“He has worked so hard to achieve all of what he has achieved and it will be a proud moment for our family when he runs out for his 100th Test match this weekend.
“For me to have been able to play with him at international level and for Leicester for so long makes it even more special.
“To have done what he has so well and for so long at the top of the game is incredible.”
Youngs, who toured with the British & Irish Lions in 2013, will lead out his country to mark his landmark occasion in the second of three games on Super Saturday.
England know they must beat Italy, preferably with a bonus-point, to stand any chance of winning the Championship – their fate would then hinge on the outcome of France’s clash with Ireland in Paris, with plenty of permutations in play.
Youngs will be focused on making sure he performs with the consistency that has helped him on the path to his century before setting his sights on adding further caps to his collection in the years to come.