‘If she’s good, I’m good. If she is suffering, it will affect me’
Leicester captain Tom Youngs talks candidly about his wife Tiffany’s cancer fight to Ben Coles
Given his role as Leicester Tigers captain, Tom Youngs is unsurprisingly displeased by his side’s barren start to the season ahead of facing Gloucester today. After defeats against Bath and Northampton, the 30-year-old England hooker is viewing the third Aviva Premiership fixture of the season as a cup final.
“We have to get a win,” he says. “We get that, we get our season started, then we can come in on Monday and feel a bit better about ourselves.”
You could forgive Youngs, however, for being distracted. Four months have now passed since the news emerged that the cancer his wife, Tiffany, has been battling since 2014 is now terminal.
His brother, England scrum-half Ben Youngs, announced that he would not be heading on the British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand, instead staying at home to support his family.
Tiffany’s condition has thankfully improved enough for her to attend Leicester’s matches after what initially looked set to be an uncertain summer spent back in the family’s native Norfolk, when thoughts about the next season with Leicester went on the back-burner.
“Tiff wasn’t particularly well end of May into June,” Youngs explains. “She has picked up massively now. It was all a bit up in the air. I didn’t know whether I was coming back, what the crack was. One of her big goals was to get back to Leicester. I knew that one of the goals was to go back to Norfolk, have some great family time, but also to get back up here and get back to family life up here. She has achieved that. She’s doing really, really well at the moment.
“We’ve been doing a few different things and that’s been helping, nutrition-wise we’ve been hitting it pretty hard.
“Again, that takes the load off me. If she’s good, I am pretty much good. If she is suffering or whatever, it will affect me.
“She is coming to the games. She is taking it how it is, switching to a positive mindset on it and just getting on with it, taking it as it comes.”
Youngs’s motivation to excel for his club has hardly been in short supply over the years, symbolised by his rise from converted centre to becoming club captain last year.
That drive has only increased while watching his wife of five years battle her illness with such a positive attitude. He discusses the resilience she has displayed over the past few months with clear pride.
“She is an inspirational lady, I can tell you that. She is a very strong character. She doesn’t moan, she gets on with it. It is amazing watching her.
“She probably doesn’t believe that herself, but she is an amazing woman. What she has gone through is pretty horrendous, but she is still there, still smiling, still pretty honest and open and talking about it.
“She has done very well and probably made me into a better person having watched her experience this.”
Returning to Leicester for pre-season training allowed Youngs moments of distraction from the situation at home when he needed them.
That said, he has never used the difficult past few months as a reason to justify falling short of his own high standards when with his club.
“Generally, I’m a committed bloke, so when I am here, I am committed to rugby. When I am at
‘What Tiff has gone through is pretty horrendous, but she is still smiling, still talking about it’
home, I am committed to that – with rugby a bit coming in at night to try and do my own work. When I am here, it is rugby, rugby and I have to show that commitment to the boys. “[I’m] not using it as an excuse ever. It is what it is, the news is out there, I’ve got to carry on and keep going. I love my rugby and it is a great way for me to get away from the stuff at home at times.”
Relinquishing the Leicester captaincy was also never on the table. Youngs might be the designated captain at Tigers but he is surrounded by leaders – George Ford, his brother Ben, Dan Cole – all with their own roles.
“I am not as good as Fordy at explaining the game-plan. There is no point in me doing it. Really, it is up to my brother and Fordy to do that. You’ve got to let those guys lead. Don’t step on their toes.”
Leicester’s on-field fortunes still clearly matter, even if they might understandably pale into insignificance compared to his wife’s health.
It is a horrendous juggling act, albeit one that has helped Youngs empathise with any Leicester players dealing with their own issues away from the Oval Park training base.
That ability to take a positive out of a nightmare situation speaks volumes about Youngs’s character. It also serves as a reminder that, win or lose on Saturday, Leicester are in very good hands.
“‘It is only a game’ and all that – but it isn’t, really,” Youngs reflects. “It is a little more than only a game. It really does mean quite a lot for us. To be successful is a massive driving force in why we get up in the morning.
“It does give me a reality check. It does give me a much better understanding. I can help guys if they are having problems at home – I can say: ‘This is how I’ve dealt with it’.
“Yes, with what’s going on, [rugby] is a small thing compared to that. But it does still mean a lot to me.”
Double life: Tom Youngs leads Leicester out and (below) with wife Tiffany and daughter Maisie