Matt Dawson column: ‘Freddie Steward should be celebrated like Maro Itoje was’


Matt Dawson

There should be as many column inches written about Freddie Steward after his performance on Saturday as there were written about Maro Itoje when he started playing for England.

Nothing is forced with Steward. He gets in such a great position, he distributes and hits lines. He is the complete full-back.

If the 20-year-old were playing for New Zealand, everyone would be going bonkers like they did with Beauden Barrett. He has only played four times for England but he really has got it.

I cannot see anybody knocking him off the perch for a long time as long as he keeps himself fit.

Steward is rock-solid, he is strong, he is brave, he is skilful and he reads the game superbly. He is an absolute star in the making and could be an England full-back for decades.

Freddie Steward runs with the ball
Freddie Steward scored England’s opening try against Australia as he earned his fourth cap

‘I thought England would play a quicker game’

Of course, fly-half Marcus Smith played well too. He got smashed a couple of times but he still took it to the line.

Smith was still giving those really tough passes and tactically kicked pretty well. After a first game up in a top-tier Test like that, he will have been patted on the back by head coach Eddie Jones, who will be thinking they have blooded him correctly.

It is a significant win for England, a couple of games into the autumn campaign.

Australia got shut out – no tries scored. England had most of the possession and territory. It was a pretty good day at the office.

I just thought we would be seeing a more pacey, broken gameplan that would suit England and run Australia around.

Their gameplan obviously worked, but I thought England were going to play a much quicker game.

I thought they would have much more intensity with quick throw-ins and tap penalties. It did have a bit of a feel of how England used to play, with lots of box-kicks and cross-field kicks.

It was a pragmatic way to beat Australia and it worked. They have beaten Australia eight times on the spin and that is a tremendous record to have.

‘England must find something South Africa are not expecting’

Given the winning margin against Australia, it will be difficult to make changes to that England team for next Saturday’s Test against South Africa, but it looked as if Owen Farrell came off injured, so we do not know what will happen with him.

My concern is that if England play like they did against Australia, they are going to make life difficult for themselves against the Springboks.

If you were South Africa, you would look at England’s win against the Wallabies and think you knew how they were going to play.

The method they were using with Farrell and Manu Tuilagi, putting Smith in behind and letting him distribute to the outside backs, was effective.

It gave Smith a bit more space with his creativity and that gameplan was absolutely spot on.

But how does it work next week when South Africa have got all the analysis from this weekend and will defend differently?

England will want this opportunity to beat South Africa after losing to them in the 2019 World Cup final – there is a lot of scar tissue.

They are not going to have the dominance up front and I cannot see South Africa making as many mistakes as Australia. England are going to have to scrap for everything.

So I would like England to come up with something that the Springboks are not expecting – like South Africa did to them in the World Cup final.

England went into that final thinking South Africa were just going to kick the leather off the ball like they had for the whole tournament.

Then all of a sudden, Faf de Klerk was running round the short side with Willie le Roux. Handre Pollard was pulling the shots and England had not seen any of it.

The Springboks will know they need to have their kick-chase spot on. They cannot test Steward and will have to get it in behind the wingers.

South Africa will go hard up front and will try to power their way through, so England have got to come up with something.

They will have to throw in ideas to break it up – such as hitting the short sides like they did in their opening win against Tonga, or quick line-outs.

Doing the things that get South Africa on the back foot will be key.

Matt Dawson was speaking to BBC Sport’s Becky Grey.

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