Freddie Steward is eager to chalk off another first on his rugby bucket list as England’s rising star begins his own process of demystifying the aura of the All Blacks.
Eddie Jones’ side bounced back from a narrow defeat to Argentina that launched the Autumn Nations Series by overwhelming Japan 52-13, but now the serious business begins.
New Zealand visit Twickenham on Saturday before South Africa conclude the schedule a week later in two heavyweight collisions that will make or break their campaign.
Steward signalled that he will be one of England’s key weapons with a towering performance against Japan as the 21-year-old full-back continued his upwards trajectory to rugby stardom.
But with the All Blacks clash imminent, the 15-cap rookie who was studying economics at Loughborough University when the rivals last clashed at the 2019 World Cup must first lose his reverence for the opposition.
“As a young lad who’s watched rugby his whole life, the All Blacks are the team you want to play against,” Steward said.
“To be able to face the Haka is just so exciting. I’ll probably need to get over being star struck in the week so that come game-day I’m in a position where I’m ready to perform.
“But 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 was at the heart of England’s best attacking moments, scoring one try and directly involved in the build-up to two others, and was equally commanding at the core elements of full-back play.
Jones praised his maturity, adding that the “only flashiness we’ve seen from him is his ridiculous moustache”.
A calm head on young shoulders, Steward has been working to enhance his mindset through sessions with psychologists Andrea Furst and Dave Priestley.
“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 said.
“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.
“It’s that focus. When that ball goes up, that is all that matters. 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.
“I had a lot of ball against Japan and it’s always nice when things fall your way. I loved every second of being out there.
“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.”