It would be difficult to think of circumstances in which The Tig’s admiration and respect for Tom Youngs could get any higher. But that was before the World Cup Final.
With younger brother Ben poised to play in the biggest game of a career which has already brought four Premiership titles, a number of individual records, more than 90 England caps and double selection for the Lions (as well as a starring role in a famous win over the world champions on his own club ground), Tom said he would not be going to Japan to support him in the World Cup Final because “he had a job to do” back home as captain of the Tigers.
It was the moment when Tom went from a 10-out-of-10 hero up to another level, a Spinal Tap 11.
“It’s not 10. Most blokes will be playing at 10. These go to 11,” in the words of the rock band movie.
Wearing his heart on his green, white and red sleeve as always, Tom acknowledged how much it would mean for him to see Ben become a World Cup winner after what his brother had done in turning down a place on a second Lions tour in 2017 to be closer to him and his wife Tiff when she was seriously ill.
But, as Tigers had kicked off the season with back-to-back defeats in a year of fresh hope, the club captain said he felt it was still important to remain and lead by example at home.
You can only imagine his emotions that day when, after watching England pick up their World Cup silver medals after defeat by South Africa, Tom led Tigers to a first win of the season – against a Gloucester side who had travelled with an unbeaten record.
It is a tragedy – using the word carefully and in the context of professional sport in light of what Tom, Tiff, Ben and the rest of the family have had to face up to in the last few years – that a man who speaks so passionately and genuinely about our club, about his club, has had to do it so often on the back foot of disappointment and defeat in recent seasons.
The years have started to dim memories of the impact Tom made in his transformation from squadman centre to first-choice hooker with club and country, topped by his Lions place in 2013 when he was also rugby’s player of the year. That took rare levels of physical and mental strength.
No one would deserve to see Tigers back where they belong, on top of the tree than Tom, our Captain Marvel. And there can be no great motivation for us all than to support him in that.