Freddie Steward urges beleaguered England to make Ireland clash a turning point
Freddie Steward insists England face their moment of truth when they attempt to begin the healing process against Grand Slam-chasing Ireland in Dublin on Saturday.
Steve Borthwick’s team are reeling from the heaviest defeat in their Twickenham history after France amassed seven tries en route to a 53-10 rout that has sent shockwaves through English rugby.
While facing world rankings kingpins Ireland on St Patrick’s weekend is the toughest possible arena in which to rebuild shattered reputations, Steward says England welcome the chance to show their character.
“Saturday was pretty bleak and I’d like to think that from there the only way is up and that we’ll improve,” said Steward, the only player to emerge with any credit from the wreckage of round four.
“Grief is a pretty good way to describe it. It’s never nice to lose, but then to lose by a margin like that is pretty sore.
“The most frustrating thing is that we had ourselves to blame and there’s no shying away from that.
“At times like this you don’t want to splinter off because then the wheels would fall off. We’re in a good spot at the minute because we’ve stayed tight.
“As (defence coach) Kevin Sinfield has said to us, these weeks define teams. When you go to the depths that we did, that’s where you really challenge yourselves to pull together and come up with something.
“Hopefully we’ll look back on this when we regather in a couple of months’ time as a real point where we stepped up and improved.”
Borthwick is wrestling with the dilemma of wanting to give the same team their shot at redemption while adjusting the line-up to account for Ireland’s strengths – their tactical cohesion, breakdown accuracy and relentless ferocity.
The starting XV for the climax to the Guinness Six Nations is named on Thursday evening and there will be at least two changes, with Ollie Lawrence and Ollie Chessum ruled out by respective hamstring and ankle injuries.
Manu Tuilagi is set to replace Lawrence at inside centre in his first appearance of the tournament, while David Ribbans, Nick Isiekwe, Jonny Hill and George Martin are jostling for Chessum’s spot in the second row.
But the biggest decision of all will be who fills the number 10 jersey, with Marcus Smith, Owen Farrell and George Ford all in contention even at this late stage of the week.
If Ford is given the nod, he will be making his first Test appearance in a year, having emerged from a difficult period in which he was frozen out by Eddie Jones and endured a long-term Achilles injury.
Ford has now spent several weeks in England camp and Steward sees his former Leicester team-mate as a hybrid coach.
“It’s almost like having another coach around. He’s so insightful – in meetings and on the pitch,” the full-back said.
“His understanding of the game is second to none and the way he reads the game is incredible.
“He’s one of those players that I always mention when people ask about the best players I’ve played with. I’d always put Fordy up there.”
“From the outside looking in, I don’t think people really understand how good he is. Because of the small things he does, you almost have to be playing alongside him to actually understand what he does for everyone else.”