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Watching brief is no picnic on derby day

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Tom Youngs says he'll definitely be back for derby fixtures even when he has retired from playing the game because he loves the day so much. It is a feeling that fans in the stands can understand, though shredded nerves and bitten fingernails betray a touchline rollercoaster ride that even battle-hardened hookers could find difficult.

As a player, Youngs is in the heart-on-his-sleeve category, a guy who does not know the meaning of defeat and who will keep going until the tank is absolutely empty. How many times have we seen him receiving medical treatment, only to drag himself back into line ready for the nest job?
Tom says he’ll watch derby days home and away in retirement, though he’s probably not fully aware of what he’s letting himself in for when he takes a seat in the stands.
Just look at last Saturday for instance.
At the end of a week in which the club had celebrated a Cup Final win but also announced a change in head coach, emotions were running high and 80 minutes at Franklin’s Gardens did little to calm anyone.
Tigers conceded a cheap early score and nerves were rattled, then Adam Thompstone grabbed a try and Freddie Burns almost created another. There was even time for the TMO to deny a potential Tigers score before Saints claimed their second try. And pause for breath – 14-7 with barely 10 minutes gone.
A couple of penalties brought the deficit back to a point before the force of nature that is Louis Picamoles scored a third for Saints with just 23 minutes played. Was this curtains for Tigers?
Freddie added a drop goal, Stephen Myler kicked a penalty and in the last gasps of a breathless first half JP Pietersen produced a try-saving hit on Christian Day which could be as valuable as any contribution he has made in attack this season. If Tigers do go on to claim a place in the semi-finals, that could be a season-defining moment from the South African. The deficit remained six points at half-time.
Ben Youngs then got on to the end of good work by Telusa Veainu and Pietersen to mark his return with a try. Owen Williams gave Tigers the lead for the first time with the conversion. Another chance to breath again.
The lead lasted three minutes and nerves were frayed again when Tigers got on the wrong side of the referee and Myler added two Saints penalties. And we were still less than an hour into the action.
With Tigers down to 14 men after a yellow card for Mike Williams, the drama somehow managed to go up a notch or two as the clock ticked into the last 10 minutes. Pietersen just missed out on adding a try to his try-saving defence but when the ball was recycled, Lachlan McCaffrey pirouetted in the corner to score. Williams kicked a superb conversion in tricky conditions and Tigers led again, this time by two points.
The lead lasted four minutes before Myler struck. Would it be a nail in the coffin with six minutes to go?
Not so, as Owen added a penalty (after missing a simpler one earlier on) for a two-point advantage once again. Then Saints were penalised on halfway with the clock almost at 80. Owen pointed to the posts… Home fans dared not to look, away fans were willing the kick on its way as it finally, excruciatingly slowly, dropped between the posts with little to spare.
Surely that was enough for one day? We thought so as Tigers safely claimed the restart. But then, with time up, the whistle went, referee Garner raised an arm in Saints’ direction and they had a penalty. Saints had to play and had to find a breakthrough. With visions of the closing stages of the Anglo-Welsh Cup Final re-running in Tigers heads, it came down to this. It couldn’t be. Could it?
After 80 minutes of a passionate, pulsating derby encounter, this was the moment. Tigers stood firm, kept cool and earned a turnover before kicking into touch. Hearts started again all around the stadium.
Even recapping here, with the points safely tucked away, The Tig’s chest is pounding. It’s a part of rugby that sometimes feels almost as tough as playing it. Tom, you have been warned.