Freddie Steward feels safe in the family as his grandfather played in goal for Cambridge

English star Freddie Steward reveals the secret behind his safe pair of hands as a full back for Eddie Jones’s team – his grandfather played in goal for Cambridge!

  • Freddie Steward made his international debut for England at Twickenham in July
  • He made rapid progress and quickly established himself as a key player on the side
  • He scored tries against Australia and South Africa in last month’s internationals
  • After England’s win at the Springboks, he hugged his grandfather in the stands
  • His grandfather also has a sporting background, as he played football for Cambridge

The safe hands of Freddie Stewards can be traced back to the family farm in Norfolk. During his childhood he roamed the fields of potatoes and sugar beets for hours.

If they weren’t sorting crops, the Steward brothers would probably be tossing a ball around with their grandfather, Gabriel Bliss, who was a goalkeeper for Cambridge United.

“As a child I spent a lot of time on the farm,” Steward says. “Grandpa took over the farm at a very young age and worked himself to a halt. It was a safe place for us growing up.

Freddie Steward had an emotional moment with his grandfather when England beat South Africa

He scored memorable tries against the Springboks and Australia last month (above)

He scored memorable tries against the Springboks and Australia last month (above)

‘Cycling, sorting potatoes, kicking a ball. Grandpa used to be very athletic. He used to play for Cambridge. Mom showed me old photos of him from long before I was born, and she says I’m just the way he was.”

After England defeated South Africa in Twickenham last month, Steward made his way to his grandfather in the stands. The pair shared a long, tearful embrace and the image went viral, alongside headlines announcing Steward, who turns 21 today, as England’s new guard in the No. 15 jersey.

‘My grandfather has been my biggest fan, next to my parents. He couldn’t get on the field after the game because his body was in pieces, but I managed to get to the stands to give him a big hug. I will cherish that photo.

‘As a fullback there are certainly similarities with a goalkeeper. As the game goes, there’s a big emphasis on the kick battle, so it’s hugely important that the fullback be that protector and that shield at the back.

“I’ve never played football seriously…just the occasional goal for my village. We lost our first game 6-1!’ It soon became apparent that Steward’s fate lay on Welford Road, rather than Carrow Road.

He learned his rugby at Swaffham and Holt before coming under the expert tutelage of fullback Geordan Murphy in Leicester.

‘I didn’t play much as a fullback until I was 15 or 16. I played a bit of fly-half for Holt. Only later did I delve into specialist 15s.

“Geordan Murphy was an incredible example of an all-round fullback, but the man I adored more than anyone else was Leigh Halfpenny. He wasn’t the greatest man, but he gave absolutely everything.

“He went with every high ball. The other sport I was interested in was the AFL players in Australia, watching the players climb and use their knees to get up in the air and get those high balls.”

Steward has learned a lot from former Irish fullback Geordan Murphy (above) at Leicester

Steward has learned a lot from former Irish fullback Geordan Murphy (above) at Leicester

The high balls have now become a trademark of 6ft 5in Steward’s game. He has enjoyed an 18 month whirlwind with club and country. Last year, he broke into a Tigers team that slid to the bottom of the table. Today he is one of England’s breakthrough stars and his club is at the top. Has it all sunk in?

“We didn’t have a game at Leicester last week, so it was a great opportunity to come home away from all the noise. It has all happened so quickly and sometimes you have to take yourself out to look at the whole thing and appreciate what is happening.

“We’re pretty secluded in Norfolk and it was like nothing really happened. It’s a beautiful place. I love going out with Mum and Dad and brothers and dogs and just going for a nice long walk on Wells beach.”

Steward has since returned to Loughborough, where he studies economics. Today he will be back to his day job when Leicester receives Harlequins, the first time Steward has played to a packed house at Welford Road.

Steward enjoyed himself on the international stage and looked at home in an England shirt

Steward enjoyed himself on the international stage and looked at home in an England shirt

“We try not to look back into the past. When I came through I just wanted to earn a spot on the team, so it was never really doom and gloom. It was more about that mentality of wanting Leicester back at the top of the table.

“Now there is a belief in each other and the boys just want to work hard for each other. I think that’s the biggest difference. You see on match days how the guys just want to graft on each other, they want to fight for each other. Slowly time has passed, Steve Borthwick has come in, everyone has moved in one direction and it’s a really good place to be.”

The club has even formed a band with Jasper Wiese on vocals (“he sounds just like Elvis”), Dan Kelly on drums and Nic Dolly on Steward on guitar. Finally the club sings to a happy tune.