The 'first thing' Borthwick thinks of when picking Freddie Steward
Freddie Steward has been chosen in the Leicester team for Saturday’s Gallagher Premiership derby at Northampton and Tigers boss Steve Borthwick can’t wait to see how his young full-back develops over the course of the new season. The 21-year-old was a sensation for club and country during his incredible 2021/22 campaign and while some people are trying to nit-pick alleged weaknesses in the youngster’s game, Borthwick will be doing the complete opposite.
Haranguing players for their perceived shortcomings is not the way Borthwick goes his coaching. Instead, his approach is to allow a player’s strengths to flourish even more, something that should have Leicester and England fans salivating given how brilliant these stand-out skills have been in Steward’s game when establishing himself as a club and country regular pick.
It was the first full season post-lockdown – 2020/21 – when Steward made the No15 jersey his own at Leicester and last term he went on to start 20 times in a campaign that culminated in a Gallagher Premiership title win and a Champions Cup quarter-final appearance. He also started every single one of England’s last 13 Test matches, a run that signed off in July with the tour Test series victory away to Australia.
Now back at Leicester, Steward is set to play for the first time this season in this weekend’s appetising league visit to Northampton after completing his ten-week rest period, and Borthwick is looking forward to seeing what materialises in the weeks and months ahead for a player whose strengths he emphasised at his pre-game media briefing.
“When you start talking about improving a player, naturally everyone appears to think there are some areas of weakness there but the guy has got some unbelievable strengths and you [the media] see them as well,” began Borthwick.
“When you pick a player, the first thing I always think about is what is their greatest strength, what is it that they are unbelievable at that I want them to bring onto the pitch. If you just take that weakness-based approach as opposed to a strengths-based approach you end up just working on their weaknesses and at the same point of time their strengths can decline.
“What I would concentrate on with Freddie is the unbelievable strengths he brings, incredible under the high ball, great last defender in your team and you see how much he brings in the carry. You saw some of the tries he has scored, the ability to burst tackles, the ability to take that outside break. He is still a young man and as he develops physically and matures he is going to be even more powerful.”
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