Ben Youngs talks about Leicester Tigers' infamous Tuesday training sessions
"He's taller if he lays on his side. He's the biggest bloke I've ever seen."
As England teammates, and as experienced Premiership players, Ben Young and James Haskell have come up against their fair share of bruisers and hitmen on rugby fields across the globe. Both are in full agreement on the toughest tackler in the game.
Haskell says he was never scared of any opposition player when he took to the field, but he was 'super wary' of Henry Tuilagi.
"The problem with Henry" he once recalled, "is, for a start, he was about 135kgs.
"He used to stand in the back-field and people used to kick him the ball, and he would catch it and hold it in one hand. His hand was so big that it looked like a miniature rugby ball.
"And he would run... and just the f***ing hate in his face.
"He would batter some people. He would absolutely kill people, and he'd do it with a smile on his face, and would repeatedly do it."
On JOE UK's House of Rugby, Leicester and England scrumhalf Ben Youngs joined Haskell and host Alex Payne to recall some class Tigers tales. Youngs, who is one Test cap shy of 100 for England, started training with the Leicester senior squad when he was only 17 and he can vividly remember a simple catch and pass tackling pad drill.
"Henry came running in and he stopped, literally, an inch away and I was about to mess my pants. He stopped just shy of me, rubbed my head and said, 'Don't worry Lenny'. I was blessing myself, 'Oh my God! Thank goodness for that! My life flashed before my eyes."
Youngs was fortunate that Tuilagi was just hazing the youngster. Henry Tuilagi at full pelt could decimate a ball-carrier, as Ben Foden discovered back in 2009:
As he was making his way with Tigers, Youngs was often sent over to run drills with the pack and more than one contact session of a Tuesday blew up. "Louise Deacon was one guy you didn't want to aggravate. I certainly didn't but if another forward did you'd think, 'Okay, here we go'."
"Like all clubs," Young continues, "Leicester had a reputation and their reputation was built on a big, nasty forward pack. And that was just how you trained. You had Cockers [Richard Cockerill] who just demanded that physicality and aggressiveness. But as long as you worked hard and kept your head down, you were always alright. But if you wanted to mix it and look for trouble, you'd find it, no problems."
As much as Henry was the rough-rider and Manu Tuilagi has been a demon for Leicester, England and the Lions, for Youngs it is Alesena Tuilagi that takes the crown in that rugby dynasty.
"Just the skills, the power, the speed. An absolute gent of a bloke and a guy that looked out for me when I was coming up." He continued:
"We played Bath [in 2011] and I think it was a year or two previous when Alesena had made a tackle on Nick Abendanon when he didn't have the ball, and he got banned for this no-arms tackle off the ball. It was probably a ban, right? But we'll say it wasn't.
"So he got banned and missed the Premiership final but he was able to play in the European Cup final against Leinster. We played Bath then, a year later, and Abendanon was named in the team for Bath. It was just bizarre because Alesena basically told Manu, Stevie Mafi and any of the island lads, 'If Abdendanon gets it, we're going after him'.
"And poor old Benders, he got hit around eight or nine times. Absolutely smashed. I'll never forget it. They just went after him."
Youngs says that, from a Leicester scrumhalf's point of view, at the time, the Abendanon demolition job was a thing of beauty. The Bath star, who ended up moving on to Clermont, did earn a lot of credit for picking himself up each time and playing on.
"He took a serious pounding that day," added Youngs, and no-one is disagreeing.
Haskell recalls Adendanon getting bounced all over The Rec 'like a crash-test dummy' and likens it to Manu Tuilagi's coming together with Chris Ashton.
With the Tuilagi's, as Youngs found, it was a lot safer having them on your side come kick-off.
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