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Tom Youngs backed to become the best hooker in world

Tom YoungsTom Youngs now rivals South African icon Bismarck du Plessis as the world’s best hooker, according to former England stalwart Lee Mears, who believes the Leicester man has the physicality and all-round game to electrify fans during the World Cup.

Youngs, a standout performer for Leicester during their battling Premiership campaign, has assumed the mantle of being England’s No.1 after Dylan Hartley was binned by Red Rose boss Stuart Lancaster for totting up one disciplinary ban too many.

Mears, who played with and against Youngs before retiring in 2013, believes converted centre Youngs can aim even higher, telling The Rugby Paper: “Tom’s arguably the best in the Northern Hemisphere and might be the best in the world.

“Bismarck is probably my world No.1 still, but on form we haven’t seen the old Bismarck during this season in Super Rugby. Whether he’s saving it, I don’t know, but Tom got stronger and stronger last season and is now pushing for that top spot.

“Australia’s Stephen Moore has been around the block and is still a good player, while Dane Coles and Keven Mealamu are still churning it out in New Zealand, but Youngsy’s going to be relishing that challenge and he can have a really big World Cup.”

Outlining Youngs’ star qualities, Mears added: “He’ll be England’s No.1 now and I’ve been a big fan of his for a long time.

“He’s a lot more dynamic than I ever was, but I’d like to think we had a few similarities elsewhere that I can appreciate.

“Defensively, the speed he gets off the line is fantastic and, having played in the backs earlier in his career, he understands all of the footwork.

“The impact he makes around the tackle area is phenomenal and his ball-carrying is equally impressive. He’s got a very low centre of gravity, which makes him very hard to stop, he’s busy and everything he does is always very effective.

“He got grief for his lineout earlier on in his hooking career and he’s always had that over him, but I’ve played with and against him and he’s always been spot on.

“People will try to get into his head, but he’ll be mentally prepared for that.”

Mears expects former Bath colleague Rob Webber to provide experienced back-up to Youngs in the white heat of a World Cup arena, but admits he is intrigued by which of young guns Luke Cowan-Dickie and Jamie George earns the No.3 slot.

Webber did not enjoy the best of seasons at Bath, where Ross Batty often outshone him, but Mears has no concerns over the Yorkshireman’s form.

“Having someone like Ross Batty pushing him so hard has meant that Rob’s raised his game,” Mears said, “and the great thing about Rob now is that having rotated with Ross, it will prolong his career and he’ll go into the World Cup really fresh.

“Webbs is phenomenal in the scrum, his lineout is generally good, he gets around the field pretty well and has some good leadership about his game. And the fact he hasn’t been battered all season could work massively in his favour.”

Of the battle between Cowan-Dickie and George, Mears adds: “They’ve not got these two guys in a World Cup training squad just to give them experience, they’ll genuinely want to look at them in the warm-up games to see if they can provide impact, whether that’s from the start or off the bench, and it will be very interesting to see.

“Cowan-Dickie is the future, no question of that. He’ll have mental battles around the lineout, but around the field he brings something similar to Tom Youngs, while Jamie has been in a Premiership-winning side this year and kept Schalk Brits out.

“It’ll be a great battle between him and Cowan-Dickie to make that World Cup squad, but it might boil down to experience, in which case Jamie could edge it.

“When you get to that highest level everything you do around the field is an absolute bonus, but your main job is still to get the ball to far more skilful people so that’s what will tend to dictate selection in those real high pressure games.”

Mears, who now works as a mental coaching consultant for City firm The Preston Associates, has recently worked with the England squad, helping to hone the psychological edge of players ahead of what will be the biggest assignment of their lives.

He added: “It’s all about the mental side now, especially in a position like hooker. They’ve got all the ability in their locker otherwise they wouldn’t be there, but performing under the massive pressure of a World Cup is something else altogether.

“I used a bit of my experience when I was there, imparting a bit of my rugby knowledge, and I hope England will have me in again at some point.”

NEALE HARVEY

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