Two years ago Ben Youngs might have been starting a week that ends by facing France at Twickenham with thoughts already on the Grand Slam.
Under the Martin Johnson regime England would win the 2011 RBS Six Nations title, but would lose the chance of the Slam in Dublin where for much of the game they were pummelled by a pumped up Ireland.
Two years on and Youngs, who was sent to the sin bin during that Irish defeat in 2011, has his revenge all sorted after last Sunday’s win at the Aviva Stadium but, more importantly, his head in the right place to know that he cannot afford to look any further than Saturday’s game against a wounded France.
“The reason why I’m not thinking about the Grand Slam is because I’ve made that mistake before and I’ve learnt never to do it again,” admitted the 23-year-old scrum half last night.
“Two years ago the whole mentality and culture of the squad was different. We all believed we’d win the Slam. We lost sight of never looking beyond the next game, and that whatever results had occurred before were irrelevant.
“In 2011 Ireland had an average Six Nations and we came to Dublin unbeaten, but they blew us apart in the first twenty minutes and the game was gone. I was 21 years old and when the culture in the squad is like that you fall very easily into the trap.
“I’m glad it happened because you learn more from your mistakes than your successes. I’m older and wiser and more mature as a person but, more importantly, I’m a much better player. My game management is better and my understanding of how to play and where the game is going in all situations and conditions.
“I don’t believe there’s a single person in the squad who is thinking about the Grand Slam because the culture of our squad wouldn’t allow it. We can’t look further than France. That’s enough to focus your mind on.”
Despite losing in Rome to Italy and then at home to Wales the French, according to Youngs, will be a serious proposition in six days’ time.
“You know, whatever’s gone on before, that the French will turn up at Twickenham,” he said. “We have to assume it but it almost certainly will be the case anyway. You can’t read anything into previous results. Did anyone expect Italy to beat France, or for Scotland to blow Italy away? You definitely can’t read anything into the French.
“Remember the world cup? They lost to Tonga in the group stages and scraped into the knockout stages, then beat us in the quarter final and could and probably should have won the final against New Zealand.
“They’ll have a big, heavy pack and will move their backs around a bit with Wesley Fofana, one of the best players in the world, in the centres. They’ll be hurt and embarrassed and because of the fact that you just don’t know what they’re going to do this makes them scary.
“That’s why it’s madness to look ahead to playing Italy or Wales, or thinking about any Grand Slams. We have to think about France and France alone. I’ve learnt that the hard way but our culture now under Stuart (Lancaster) could not be different in that sense.”
Youngs was noticeable in his immediate, post-match celebrations on the pitch last week at the Aviva Stadium, even though it was a low-scoring, game of attrition in difficult conditions.
“When we lost I had a poor game, got a yellow card and felt a large degree of responsibility for the result,” he explained. “So there was a burying of that ghost last week. I put a few things right.
“But it was also in recognition of how hard we had worked as a team. A couple of years ago I may not have enjoyed a game like that so much. I liked the sun on my back and playing running rugby.
“Now I can see the bigger picture. I’ve developed the ability to play in all conditions under any circumstances. Last Sunday needed positional play, great defence and a win that needed to be ground out. I can now appreciate a win like that, and what I’m required to do, as much as a high-scoring, flowing game of rugby.”
Outside him Owen Farrell has helped form a potent partnership at half back although Youngs, the more experienced of the pair, sees himself as the junior partner these days.
“You’d think Owen’s won 80 caps by his composure, wouldn’t you? His game management and demeanour is far beyond where I was at his age, or anyone else I know. He has a gift. It’s exciting to know that the likes of Owen, and Manu Tuilagi, Joe Launchbury and others will only get better and better and it’s up to the rest of us to make sure we don’t get left behind.”
The pair are certain to start against France on Saturday and if Youngs is true to his word then the opposition will be given ultimate respect by a team that has learnt the hard way that Grand Slams come at the end of a process, not midway through.