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Why 'fantastic' Biggar and 'goalkeeper' Barrett inspire Steward

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

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New England full-back Freddie Steward has spoken about the spell cast on him in recent times by Wales’ Dan Biggar and Jordie Barrett of the All Blacks, two players he has most looked up to in order to develop his own game to become a Test level No15. The 20-year-old Leicester player has been at full-back in his country’s four most recent matches and he will look to extend that winning run to five this Saturday when he lines out as a starter against the Springboks at Twickenham.  

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There are high hopes that the youngster has the talent to go on and enjoy a decade-long Test level career and he has studiously kept an eye on some established players from rival countries to help ensure his own game is up to scratch.

A guy who I used to watch last year particularly was Dan Biggar,” explained Steward, who made his England debut in the summer series win over the USA in early July. “He is one of the best in the world with that sort of kick and regather. He is fantastic in the air.

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Freddie Burns on whether the Springboks will target Maro Itoje and Marcus Smith
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Freddie Burns on whether the Springboks will target Maro Itoje and Marcus Smith

“And now you look around the world and you see Jordie Barrett, who has been fantastic for the All Blacks. He has been a rock at the back. He is just almost like a goalkeeper back there and that is something that is a really good example of how full-backs can be used these days.”

Full-back is a relatively newish position for England newcomer Steward who started out at the age of four as a fly-half before switching into the midfield as a 12-year-old. It was only three years later, at the age of 15, that the career-making decision was taken for him to move to full-back and the rest, as they say, is history.    

“When we made the switch I had a chat with my academy coach and we just thought it was the right thing to do. I was tall at the time but that height gave me an immediate advantage and from then on it was identified as something that could be my point of difference. I wouldn’t say it has come naturally. It has taken a lot of hard work to perfect. Even last season there were plenty of games when I was making mistakes and I still do drop them now. It is something I will continue to work hard on.  

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“At full-back, you see the game from a different perspective because you are always trying to predict what is going to happen, you look at tens and try to work out where they are going to kick to next. 

“You are then organising your wingers, so you have got that responsibility, so it was very different to start with. You go from defending in the front line to suddenly standing behind everyone, telling everyone where to be and what to do. It definitely took a couple of seasons to really get used to that role.”

Facing the Springboks at the age of 20 will very much be a pinch-me moment for Steward, especially as he remembers being out on loan from Leicester two years ago and watching the World Cup final in a clubhouse bar. “I was out on loan at Loughborough University and we had a rugby session that Saturday morning and all the boys went back into the clubhouse to watch it on the big screen. 

“We had one South African with us, he was the only guy in the room with a few Scots cheering for South Africa which didn’t go down very well. I remember watching that game and to be suddenly sat here with the prospect of playing South Africa on Saturday is very strange. 

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“South Africa are a team that employs that contestable kick tactic very often so that is definitely a challenge to be aware of but also to be excited about. I love going in the air and catching the high ball, so I am excited to see what can happen on Saturday. 

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