Tom Youngs - the pressures of playing hooker

At times the rugby pitch can be a lonely place, when the collective endeavour of 15 men can come down to the actions of one individual.

Ask a goal kicker lining up a last-minute effort at the posts or a hooker with a high-pressure throw on his own tryline.

The latter is something England’s Tom Youngs knows all about, having done so for Leicester, England and the Lions.

“A goal-kicker only has himself to kick the ball whereas a hooker has someone making a call, two people lifting the bloke jumping and the jumper, so really all the hooker can do is put the ball in a space,” he told O2. 

“There can be a lot of things that go wrong for that ball not to get there; the opposition might steal it, someone might be slow on a lift or call.

“The kicker has the elements to contend with but it’s all down to his technique and talent. That’s probably one of the things I get frustrated with about watching rugby, when hookers get blamed for bad throws because it may not be their fault, you can see it was down to one of the other variables.”

You have to learn from why mistakes have happened and get an answer

It’s not a particularly forgiving position, miss one crucial throw and the 99 others executed to perfection evaporate into the ether.

The 27-year-old admits he would often exacerbate his errors by giving away penalties.

“I would do a bad throw and when they won the ball or stole it I would blame myself straight away,” said Youngs, who moved to hooker in 2009 when former Leicester coach Heyneke Meyer suggested he should switch from centre.

“I would be doing all I could to win the ball back and would end up giving away a penalty. Stupid stuff like that doesn’t seem a lot but in the context of the game it’s gone from one mistake to two.” 

With the help of RFU sports psychologist Matt Thombs and forward coach Simon Hardy, who revolutionised 2003 World Cup-winning hooker Steve Thompson’s technique, Youngs now has a much more pragmatic approach. 

“It’s about letting it go, thinking ‘that’s done and there’s nothing you can do about it’,” he said. 

“I started seeing the psychologist about three-and-a-half years ago and it’s really kicked me on.

“You have to learn from why mistakes have happened and get an answer. It may be because you’ve dropped your left arm or thrown early. 

“We all have bad habits and sometimes they can turn up in games. I use video analysis to watch all my throws back and look at my technique. 

“If I play for Leicester Simon will watch and he’ll text me on Sunday about my line-outs and say: ‘Have a look at line-outs two and four’. 

“Sometimes they’ll be really good. It’s always a human nature thing to look on the negatives and often I’d say: ‘What’s wrong with that?’ 

“He wants to see you to say: ‘That throw was good, what did you do well on that throw?’

It’s an approach which has been appreciated by England head coach Stuart Lancaster too.

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