Rugby

Players’ responsibility to get England fans back onside – Freddie Steward

England were booed on their last appearance at Twickenham as they lost a World Cup warm-up game to Fiji.

Freddie Steward has called on England to win back the support of Twickenham as they launch a new era with Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash against Wales.

In their most recent home fixture, Steve Borthwick’s side were booed by fans after falling 30-22 to Fiji in the build-up to the 2023 World Cup – the first time they had ever lost to the Islanders.

Keen to dispel the funeral atmosphere last seen at Twickenham, Jamie George’s England are determined to reconnect with their support by delivering results and displaying ambition and passion.

Fiji players celebrate the final whistle after defeating England at Twickenham in August
Fiji players celebrate the final whistle after defeating England at Twickenham in August Fiji players celebrate the final whistle after defeating England at Twickenham in August (David Davies/PA)

Fans rallied behind the team during their march to third place at the World Cup and flocked to Rome for Saturday’s narrow win against Italy, but Steward knows it is the backing they receive in south west London that is critical.

“Being back at home is also synonymous with us being a new group,” said the Leicester full-back.

“This is essentially a fresh start. We have had our World Cup and we are on the start of a new cycle with fresh faces, new coaches. This is our chance to draw a line in the sand.

“As players when you play for England you are expected to win and when you don’t win, understandably you don’t have the fans on your side and there was a bit of that in the warm-ups to the World Cup.

“I would never blame the fans and say they need to lift us. They do that on the back of what we do, so the responsibility is ours.

“During the World Cup when we got to the semi-final it felt like that is what it can be like. As players we want that all the time but we have to put the performances on the field to earn that.

“The fans are the heartbeat of what we do. We want Twickenham to erupt and we want it to be a place we want to go and play in front of our fans and represent them.”

England’s tactics during the first year of Borthwick’s reign were conservative as he tried to shape a side that could challenge at the World Cup just nine months after replacing Eddie Jones as head coach.

The focus on kicking and stats-based approach turned off many supporters, but at the Stadio Olimpico there was greater enterprise and a willingness to attack from their own half.

“There’s the mentality side of it in terms of being braver by attacking further from the line and trying to challenge the opposition, giving them something to think about,” Steward said.

“We were probably guilty early doors of being too one-dimensional in terms of teams knowing what we were going to do.

“But hopefully by evolving the attack it will ask a few more questions of the opposition. The more time we’ve had together, it helps.

“For us as players, we want to play winning rugby. Whatever style that is, we want to win Test matches, we want to win tournaments and have successful campaigns.”