Ireland have already played their joker by ending New Zealand’s world record winning streak, and the added carrot of a Grand Slam will ensure that England will not slip up in Dublin on Saturday evening despite history suggesting otherwise, says Ben Youngs.
The scrum-half was a baby-faced rookie when England left the Aviva Stadium six years ago on the back of a deflating 24-8 defeat that saw the Six Nations Grand Slam go begging, and despite securing the title regardless, they have not forgotten that sinking feeling.
Now though, England stand on the brink of history, with the chance to secure back-to-back Grand Slams added to by the prospect of breaking New Zealand’s 18-match winning run. Ireland will be no easy task though, and just like in 2011, they proved last October that when the odds are stacked against them, they have enough in the locker to produce a world class performance few can match.
That occasion saw the Irish produce an inspired display in Chicago to beat the All Blacks 40-29, ending their unbeaten run in the process, but Youngs does not believe that it is a sign of something similar to come this weekend, and instead feels that Joe Schmidt’s side have already given up their hand.
“That was a one-off game in Chicago,” Youngs said. “Our motivation is that we have a chance to win a grand slam. I don't know what New Zealand's reasons were but Ireland played very well. It gives us that awareness of what they're capable of. That just reinforces the mind and makes sure we're right on it. We know what they're capable of.
“They took New Zealand in Chicago and it's a well-publicised message to us that they're a side who are more than capable of getting results.”
But while that New Zealand side may have come unstuck in the exhibition-like atmosphere of Soldier Field, Youngs believes England’s determination to keep them on the right path – the one towards “greatness” as head coach Eddie Jones has preached – will motivate them in different ways than the All Blacks were.
“I think that’s the key that you’ve got to embrace it,” Youngs adds on the chance to become a ‘great’ team. “Eddie spoke really well when he addressed the side on Sunday evening about that chance to make that step. One of the things was that chance to go back-to-back Grand Slams will probably never happen, potentially, for any of us again. So why waste that opportunity?
“He said the last thing we want to do is use that as a negative thing and hold us back in any way, shape or form. All this week has been about attacking it, embracing it, and getting excited about it. You know, our motivation is huge. We’ve got a chance to win back to back Grand Slams. A chance, as Eddie put it, to put ourselves as a team that people potentially see as a great side. That’s enormous motivation.
“I see our motivation and desire to win the game as probably higher than Ireland’s potentially. Because we have got so much to win. We’ve got to be excited by that and embrace it.
“From our point of view, why focus on two things when we can focus on one? Focus on winning the Grand Slam and the record comes with it. Focus on both and you're thinking about two things when you could be just thinking about one and putting all your thoughts into that. Then both comes with it anyway.”