Freddie Steward: Leicester Tigers 'undroppable' teenage full-back

By Adam WhittyBBC Radio Leicester Sport
Freddie Steward
Steward is an England Under-20 player and was involved in their Six Nations campaign this year

For many rugby players, a pre-match routine can involve pumping yourself up. Not so for 19-year-old Leicester Tigers full-back Freddie Steward.

"I usually have a bath on the morning of the game to try and calm me down, and get some music on," he says.

"I listen to 80s stuff, I like to keep it chilled out and don't want to get riled."

Steward's quiet, relaxed approach seems to be paying off. His performances are making plenty of noise as it is.

On Sunday, he announced himself to the rugby world with an outstanding 48-metre penalty kick that sailed over the posts to extend Tigers' lead in their East Midlands derby against Northampton Saints.

It meant a Tigers side down to 13 men at the time managed to extend an ultimately telling lead against their local rivals in a vital period before half-time.

"The long legs definitely help," explained 6ft 5ins tall Steward. "It's something I've been practicing in training.

"It was a chance to use up minutes and it was in range. I told [Leicester captain] Tom Youngs I'd have a go, and it came off."

"His range is long," added director of rugby Geordan Murphy, who knows a thing or two about full-back play, as he became the most decorated Premiership player of all time at Tigers over a 15-year career in that position.

"Being a big boy, when he kicks it, it travels. We reckon he can make 60 metres."

Steward has been picked for four of Leicester's biggest games since the Premiership resumed. While Tigers have struggled - winning just two of their seven games since the restart - he has shone, playing alongside the likes of England internationals George Ford, Ben Youngs and Ellis Genge.

Geordan Murphy
Tigers legend Geordan Murphy retired as a player in 2013

Murphy said the England Under-20 international has "taken his chance". He is now first choice full-back.

Tongan superstar Telusa Veainu has previously held that role, but when he, along with four other team-mates, left under dramatic circumstances at the end of June in a contract dispute, that left the number 15 slot open.

"Potentially the impact of Covid-19, and the scenario we found ourselves in, sped up his growth curve, and gave him the opportunity to play," said Murphy.

"There is a lot more to come from Freddie. He's an exciting young prospect. He's 6ft 5ins, 106 kilos [17 stone], and getting better."

It is his height that sets him apart. He is currently the tallest full-back starting regularly in the Premiership. Steward says it gives him a "big strength" in taking the ball from high kicks.

"Since the restart, I've been trying to be the best in that area," he added.

The teenager is one of the latest products from Leicester's academy, and the latest in a long line of players recruited from Norfolk, which include England and Lions players Tom and Ben Youngs.

He made his debut in March 2019, as an 18-year-old in a Premiership game against Sale. He played for two minutes, but describes it as an "unbelievable experience".


Freddie Steward in action for Leicester Tigers
Steward scored his first Premiership try in Leicester's defeat against Sale

He played twice for Tigers in the Challenge Cup that season, becoming their second youngest try-scorer in Europe in the process, before getting his chance to start in the Premiership in the defeat against Bath.

When Tigers play Castres in their European quarter-final at Welford Road on Sunday, he is set to start alongside Tigers' big guns.

Steward credits new head coach Steve Borthwick for his recent rise.

"With Steve, you've just got to work really hard," said Steward. "That's what I've been trying to do - do the basics really well, let my training do the talking.

"I'm grateful for Steve for trusting me."

So what does the future hold for the back with the frame of a backrower? Former England and Tigers back Mat Tait says Steward is currently "undroppable".

"He looks solid with his kicking decisions. He's good under the high ball. He has such a calm presence about him, and can communicate really well," Tait said.

"You can't leave him out of the team."

Steward though, with typical modesty, is not thinking that far ahead.

"For me, it's about continuing performing," he said

"I'm loving every minute out there. I just want to keep doing my job, working for the team. Hopefully I'll keep getting selected."

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