Freddie Steward: ‘The Six Nations will be a reminder of what rugby can do for the community’

Freddie Seward emerged at Leicester Tigers under Steve Borthwick
©David Howlett

Ahead of England’s Guinness Six Nations opener against Scotland on Saturday afternoon, full-back Freddie Steward hopes that the tournament’s kick-off this weekend can be a reminder of what rugby can do for its community.

This has come after a particularly taxing time for the game. Since the turn of the year, rugby has faced widespread problems that have spread from the back pages to the front, with the Welsh Rugby Union in the midst of a sexism and misogyny scandal, while Scotland faced criticism for their handling of Rufus McLean’s domestic abuse charge and the Rugby Football Union face an uprising from grassroots clubs after their decision to lower tackle height.

One of the stormiest build-ups to a Six Nations in recent memory, when the games get underway at the weekend, it will come as a relief for many when the rugby actually starts when Ireland play Wales at the Principality Stadium in Saturday’s early kick-off.

“It has been a rough ride,” Steward said. “Over the last couple of months there have been lots of things going on – but the Six Nations will be a reminder, I think, of what rugby can do for the community.

“It brings everyone together from all those countries, regardless of the results. It will be a brilliant time, I think, to get everyone back together.”

Like plenty of others, Steward grew up watching the Six Nations as winter turned to spring, emulating the players he saw the day before at minis and juniors’ rugby on a Sunday morning before watching that afternoon’s game in front of the fireplace with his two brothers.

Now 22 and with 17 England caps to his name, Steward’s preparation for Six Nations weekends are slightly different. Aside from sitting an economics exam on Monday morning and being invigilated by England’s team manager, the Leicester Tigers back has been preparing to take on Scotland in the Calcutta Cup.

After making his England debut in the summer of 2021, Steward is yet to taste victory in rugby’s oldest international fixture. In recent memory, England’s form against Scotland has been poor.

Over the past five years, England have only lifted the trophy once. Coming thanks to a fairly uninspiring 13-6 win at Murrayfield, Saturday’s clash will be a baptism of fire for Steward and his teammates as they get to grips under the guidance of Steve Borthwick.

Appointed as England’s new head coach in mid-December following the sacking of Eddie Jones a fortnight prior, Borthwick has only had two weeks with his team before taking on Gregor Townsend’s Scots. 

Borthwick named his first squad yesterday, the 43-year-old naming Steward as his full-back. Still only several years into his professional rugby career, Steward has consistently made things look easy and can well and truly call himself one of his country’s most important players.

In a new-look back three where there is a return for Saracens’ Max Malins and a debut for London Irish’s Ollie Hassell-Collins, Steward is likely to take a leading role as a player who has maintained his position following England’s last outing at the end of November.

With Nick Evans installed as attack coach, there is certainly hope that Steward and his teammates in the backs will benefit from that new influence. It is also likely that Steward and his Leicester Tigers teammates will take to life under new management far quicker than others.

“Without giving too much away, we want to attack with purpose, want to be accurate, efficient with attack, and part of that is knowing your detail, your roles, and there’s been a distinct increase in the clarity we’ve got with the gameplan and our attacking roles,” Steward said. “Hopefully we’ll be really purposeful ball-in-hand on Saturday.”

Coached by Borthwick and new defence coach Kevin Sinfield last season as Tigers won the Gallagher Premiership, Steward described the pair as the “same people, different tracksuits” when asked if there was much difference to how they were going about business.

In the short space of time since Borthwick was able to get hands on with players there certainly have been similarities to when he took the reins at Mattioli Woods Welford Road. Buzzwords have been ‘fight’ and ‘clarity’, with England’s coached looking to leave no questions needing to be asked. 

“There’s a few trends,” Steward said when asked about similarities to Leicester. “What their philosophies are and the way they come across in how they want their team to be.

“There have been similarities, yes, and most of that is the fight, belief they want from us, and what they want to see from us.”

It is the team’s defensive leader Sinfield that is the driving force to England’s fight. It is something which the rugby league legend sees as taking the least effort, doing everything possible for the teammate next to you.

This is something which the 42-year-old embodies. His fundraising efforts for Motor Neurone Disease are testament to this, raising millions after running numerous ultra-marathons in the name of his former Leeds Rhinos teammate Rob Burrow.

With a documentary of his exploits aired on the BBC on Friday evening, plenty more are likely to be in awe of the Oldham-born coach, much like the England squad have been since being introduced to the new coaches.

“I’ve worked with Kev and Steve before, so I know what to expect in terms of how they deliver their messages, but I loved looking at the lads’ faces and speaking to them after meetings to see the impression that those two made on them,” Steward said.

“Particularly in such a short space of time; the way they are as people, not as coaches and the way they talk – Kev in particular, with everything he has done, and the way he talks about the fight and the battle and working for each other.

“It does bring that sense of unity and spirit. That will help us go to the front-line on Saturday.”

England Starting XV

Freddie Steward; Max Malins, Joe Marchant, Owen Farrell (C), Ollie Hassell-Collins*; Marcus Smith, Jack van Poortvliet; Ellis Genge (VC), Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Ollie Chessum, Lewis Ludlam, Ben Curry, Alex Dombrandt


Jack Walker*, Mako Vunipola, Dan Cole, Nick Isiekwe, Ben Earl, Ben Youngs, Ollie Lawrence, Anthony Watson