‘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

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Aviva Premiership -

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

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