Top tips from the Leicester and England full-back on winning the aerial battle

How to take a high ball 

Leicester full-back Freddie Steward had a breakthrough season for the Tigers in 2020-21 and subsequently earned a call-up to the England squad, making his Test debut against the USA.

He impressed at No 15 against the Americans and Canada a week later, and looks assured in the aerial battle whether playing for club or country.

Here are his top tips on how to take a high ball…

Read the kicker

“I try to read the body language of the kicker to see how long the kick will be. I don’t want to move too early, though, because if I drop deep they can kick short. I want to be deeper than where I think the ball will land so I can run onto it.

“When the ball is in the air I just focus on the flight of the ball and ignore anyone who is coming towards me.”

Get high

“As the ball comes down you want to get as high as you can to win the space, then get your knee up to increase the space you’ll have in the air.

“We were doing work in the England camp with a psychiatrist. If I drop a high ball, I take a few deep breaths, drop back to the position I need to be and think about my next task.”

Judge the situation

“If the catch is contested, my only focus once I hit the ground is to get as many metres forward as possible. I don’t think about passing in that situation.

“If it’s a longer kick, I rely on the players around me to tell me what to do. If they want me to run with the ball they will shout ‘carry’ and if they want me to move the ball they will shout ‘shift’. With my team-mates giving me those instructions, I can focus on just catching the ball.”

Train like a match

“In practice we make it as game-realistic as possible. We’ll use tackle bags and swimming pool floats to hit the player as they go up, to replicate what it’s like to compete for the ball. We will also put a tackle shield on the back of one of the lads and practise jumping onto that.

“Before games I do loads of reps catching the high ball. Each stadium is different and you need to get used to the wind and so on.”

This article originally appeared in Rugby World’s September 2021 edition.

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