All Blacks ambition - England full-back Freddie Steward
Twickenham (United Kingdom) (AFP) - England’s rising star Freddie Steward is determined his boyhood admiration for the All Blacks will not distract him from rising to the challenge of playing New Zealand for the first time.
Eddie Jones’ men revived their Autumn Nations Series with a 52-13 thrashing of Japan at Twickenham on Saturday, having launched their November campaign with a narrow defeat by Argentina.
England will now end the calendar year against rugby union’s two enduring superpowers, New Zealand and South Africa, with the All Blacks first up on November 19.
Veteran coach Jones, speaking after the Japan match, promised England would “go after” a New Zealand side he feels are “there for the taking”.
England, however, have won just eight of their 42 Tests against the All Blacks, even if they did beat them 19-7 in their last encounter in the 2019 World Cup semi-final, when the 21-year-old Steward was still a Loughborough University student.
“As a young lad who’s watched rugby his whole life, the All Blacks are the team you want to play against,” full-back Steward told reporters after scoring one try against Japan and helping create several others.
- ‘Aura’ -
Steward, speaking before New Zealand came from nine points down to avoid a first defeat by Scotland in a 31-23 win at Murrayfield on Sunday, added: “To be able to face the Haka is just so exciting. I’ll probably need to get over being starstruck in the week so that come game-day I’m in a position where I’m ready to perform.”
But Steward, whose 15 England caps have also seen him impress in the defensive duties expected of a full-back, insisted: “It’s important not to get caught up in that aura of their history and their success and just treat it as just another game.
“We’ll work out what we did well against Japan and what we didn’t do well, put it right and put together a plan to beat them. We had a point to prove after the Argentina game. We were frustrated with that result.”
Steward has been working on both the mental and physical aspects of his game, with the Leicester No 15’s training regime including sessions with psychologists.
“When you’re running out at Twickenham and you have 80,000 fans around you screaming and the ball goes in the air, it’s quite a daunting experience,” he explained.
“I’ve done a lot of work on dealing with that and ignoring everything except the ball because that’s all that matters. That’s been the biggest work-on for me.
“So it’s: ‘where’s the ball going to land, what do I need to do with my timing and my footwork to get there?’ It’s trying not to think about what’s coming – not the next phase, just that ball.”
He added: “I had a lot of ball against Japan and it’s always nice when things fall your way.
“I’ve also been working really hard on the physical side of the game – the power, the strength, the speed – and it’s good to see that paying dividends.”