Northampton’s Tommy Freeman: ‘I’m knocking on England’s door and that’s all I can do’ | Northampton
VVersatility can be a double-edged sword for emerging youngsters, but when Northampton director of rugby Chris Boyd speaks lyrically about how many positions Tommy Freeman could play in, he grabs much of the the reason Eddie Jones took such a liking to the Saints flyer.
In his fledgling career so far, the 21-year-old Freeman has proven equally comfortable on the wing as at the back and after an untimely injury in January he has touched his suspenders again, running in four tries in six matches, including eye-catching efforts in the miraculous return to Bath and thrilling win over Harlequins.
Curiously, the England management potentially see a future outside the center and although he has yet to earn a first cap, he has been on Jones’ radar since the 2019-20 season. “A big, strong, burly lad with good pace and a good feel for the game,” Jones says, and you sense the awareness of the game coming from avoiding being pigeonholed too early in his development. As Boyd explains: “Tommy played a lot of his rugby at a non-rugby school as a fly half. I think he could play anywhere in the back except half -back I don’t know where the ceiling is, but it is potentially high.
However, big and tough weren’t always words to describe Freeman. He made the smooth transition from the Saints’ academy to the mainstay of their push for the playoffs, but Jones likes players who have taken the path less traveled and Freeman has overcome adversity before. Released by Leicester at 16 – ‘I haven’t had a growth spurt like a lot of other boys’ – he went from Culford School in Bury St Edmunds to Moulton College in Northamptonshire, a more specialist sporting institution , where he could keep his Turning his back on rugby was never an option – “There had been too many late Monday nights for mum to let me give up, we had to go” – and when he got high , Northampton came calling .
The problem then was filling out his lanky frame – a task he took on with enthusiasm – by jumping from around 85kg to 100kg, but this weight gain is a salutary lesson for any youngster looking to build muscle fast. Freeman’s knees paid the price and last summer he underwent surgery for tendonitis. “I had the high frame but needed to put on weight and was eating a lot to get on the court as soon as possible,” he said. “If I had to do it again, I doubt that I would put so much on so quickly, because it hurt my knees. If I had to do it again, I think I would slow down a bit, but would I have had an opportunity so soon? It’s hard to say. I’m pretty happy with where I am right now. »
If his operation was a setback, England came in October and Freeman got his first taste of the international environment ahead of the autumn internationals. His second came ahead of the Six Nations in January, but a hamstring injury suffered at pre-tournament camp at Brighton ruled him out of action until March. “It was just then to shine and see if I could really put my foot forward,” adds Freeman. “The injury set me back and then I had to rebuild and go from there. You start feeling good, you start feeling fit and then you get these little setbacks and you have to build it up and get back this shape.
Luckily for Freeman, his recent performances have led to a call-up for next week’s England mini-camp in London. A first appearance is in store for the Barbarians on June 19 unless Northampton continue their form – in the league they have racked up five consecutive bonus points – until the Premiership final which takes place the day before. “As long as I play well, as long as the team plays well and puts me in that window,” he said. “It gives me more opportunities, it keeps me knocking on the door and that’s all I can really do, and hopefully it pays off.”
It also helps that the England coaches have stayed in touch – Anthony Seibold, the defense coach, has been assigned to Freeman – and although he considers full-back his favorite position, he has an open mind. “I used to get a lot of comments from my old school teachers saying you don’t want to be that guy who can play the whole backline because it ends up being No. 23,” adds he. “Now that Eddie has looked at me as a wing option and the club have put me there, I’m quite comfortable there. I was supposed to play at 13 against Racing at the outside until it was canceled with covid. In school I was still at 13. I really crossed the baseline, started at 10 and went backwards.
Before focusing on further impressing England coaches, Freeman will look to help Northampton to a six-game winning streak against Saracens on Saturday and potentially book their playoff spot, depending on results elsewhere. “We play that Saints style of rugby. It’s definitely nice, it’s fast, it takes its toll on defenders and that’s where it’s at,” Freeman says. “We have the main objective in sight and we have the conviction.”