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Exclusive Opinion: Furbank or Steward for the England 15 shirt?

BY Jack Tunney  ·  Monday Jul 8, 2024

Former England fullback Mike Brown has set his mind towards the England backline as they head into the second test against New Zealand in Auckland on Saturday.

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Brown was England’s starting fullback for many years, so we decided to get his thoughts on the two talents currently vying for the 15 shirt.

So, what does Brown think of challenger Freddie Steward and the man who delivered such a fine performance in Dunedin last weekend, George Furbank?

Firstly, Brown cast his mind back to the decision in the Six Nations that led to Steward losing the shirt.

LONDON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 10: Fraser Dingwall of England celebrates scoring his team’s second try with teammates Henry Slade and Freddie Steward during the Guinness Six Nations 2024 match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on February 10, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

“No one thought Freddie Steward would be changed, he was kind of the immovable object, the guaranteed starter at 15. For whatever reason all the coaches saw something they wanted differently from Furbank, and he came in.

Again he’s [Furbank] been through adversity, he didn’t have the best of starts with England but he’s worked on his game and has played amazingly for Saints this season. 

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Brown used this opportunity to analyse how Furbank has come back into the squad and performed with perhaps more attacking intent than his predecessor – cementing the fullback position.

“What great weapons for Steve to have at his disposal”, Brown added.

With Furbank now seen as the first-choice operator at 15, where does that leave Brown’s club teammate, Freddie Steward?

LONDON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 16: Freddie Steward passes the ball during the England Open training session held at Twickenham Stadium on February 16, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
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“Freddie is a world-class operator in his own right. Freddie just has to go through this little dip in his career and keep quietly grinding, keep sticking in there, and keep working hard on his game.

“Hopefully at Leicester, we can have a better season which will help him in his England aspirations. I wanna see him, as a teammate and as a friend, getting back into the English team.”

So Furbank or Steward for the former Quins and Newcastle player?

“I like Furbank, I think he’s an excellent player, and I love what he’s done with Saints, it’s great to watch his brilliant running with the ball, but I’ve always got to stand by my teammate. Also, I like those traditional fullbacks as he’s [Steward] brilliant under the highball and good at the basics first of all, so if he can get those other layers of his game added on, I can’t see why he won’t get an opportunity again.

LYON, FRANCE – MARCH 16: George Furbank of England looks on during the Guinness Six Nations 2024 match between France and England at Groupama Stadium on March 16, 2024 in Lyon, France. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Brown continued to stress, however, what a great predicament Borthwick finds himself in with these two world-class operators at his disposal.

“But like I said what great riches and talents Steve has got just at fullback because in a few year’s time, when we get to the end of this cycle, to win a World Cup we need different players for different things.”

All Black second row Brodie Retallick joins Jim Hamilton for the latest episode of Walk the Talk, touching on life in Japan, RWC 2023 and the future of All Black rugby. Watch now for free on RugbyPass TV

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