England coach Graham Rowntree is confident rookie hooker Tom Youngs can emulate World Cup-winner Steve Thompson by learning his trade in the furnace of international rugby.
Youngs is set to make his England debut against Fiji on Saturday after a total of just nine starts at hooker for Leicester in the Aviva Premiership and Heineken Cup.
"You can't expect Tom to be the finished article from day one but the signs are he is going to be a very, very good player going forward," Rowntree said. "You have to learn at the coal face and he is learning quickly."
It was only three years ago that Youngs began to make the transition from a hard-running centre on the recommendation of Heyneke Meyer, who was then Leicester's director of rugby and is now South Africa coach.
Thompson was originally a flanker but he was identified early by Clive Woodward as England's 2003 World Cup hooker and mastered the role.
Like Thompson before him, Youngs' most obvious weakness is the accuracy of his lineout throwing but Rowntree is excited by his all-round game.
"He has not had it all his own way in terms of the lineout," Rowntree said.
"What impresses me is how he has recovered from setbacks within games. He is a strong character and will get stronger and stronger."
Youngs will be one of three uncapped players in England's 23-man squad to play Fiji, with Wasps lock Joe Launchbury and Saracens prop Mako Vunipola set for places on the bench. Launchbury's selection came as something of a surprise, given he leapfrogged Mouritz Botha after just two days in the camp, but England have been impressed with his form for Wasps this season.
Botha and Harlequins lock George Robson were among 10 players released back to their clubs on Tuesday night, a list that also included loose-forwards James Haskell and Ben Morgan. As a result, Thomas Waldrom appears to have retained the England number eight jersey while Tom Wood and Tom Johnson have both been preferred to Haskell and are vying to start at blindside flanker.
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