|Location: Twickenham Stadium Date: Saturday, 10 February Start: 16:45 GMT
|Access: Listen on BBC Radio 5 Live, live commentary on the BBC Sport website and programme, watch on ITV1
“It was stressful, I’m not going to lie.”
Tommy Freeman has endured several setbacks in his career.
The Northampton winger boosted his international ambitions with his fourth England cap in six games in the win over Italy last weekend and a start against Wales on Saturday, but it wasn’t clear to the 22-year-old.
His previous Test spell ended at half-time when he was replaced by South Africa in November 2022 by then head coach Eddie Jones.
This defeat by the international champions at Twickenham was the end of Jones’ reign but it was also a stark reminder of the difficulties Freeman had to overcome.
“Growing up, I was always seen as second-rate,” Freeman told BBC Rugby Union Daily.
“I was flying during the day and there was always another guy who was more popular than me or the teacher’s son.
“I was at Leicester Tigers [academy] but he was released as a juvenile and it was a bit confusing.
“Leaving at half time [against South Africa] was another. I didn’t feel much after the game. “
Freeman says he found it difficult to adapt to the pace and “stop-start” pace of Test rugby from the club game, which “suited” well to his style of playing more football.
He added: “Getting out of the game before I did anything, or having time to go ‘on the go’ was the hardest part.
“But having the club and the supporters at Saints has really helped me get on the horse and prove people wrong.”
‘I got kicked in the face for that’
Steve Borthwick did not give Freeman an immediate return when he replaced Jones as England head coach and the winger was overlooked for the last six matches.
He returned to England’s pre-World Cup training squad but failed to make the final squad.
“Coming into those camps before the World Cup I probably went into my shell,” Freeman said. “I didn’t put my chest out and maybe I was guilty of not winning.
“I wanted to look serious – but maybe I was too busy.
“I got kicked in the face for that.”
It wasn’t on the field where Freeman struggled. His dream of becoming a professional seemed to be in doubt when he was diagnosed with epilepsy as a teenager.
“When I was younger I had these empty parts where I would just stare and just be empty,” she added.
“I thought I was dreaming and when I got on the tablets at the end of my GCSEs – that I just focused on it – and I finished, they [doctors] it was as if you had grown up.
“Three years later I was in college and in my first year with the Saints I had a Christmas problem.
“It was very difficult with mum and dad to think it was the end of rugby wise and I don’t know.
“I immediately got on the phone and all the doctors were sending me in left and centre.
“It was a very difficult time but it soon got better in rugby – I’m on life pills now – everything is fine.
“There were two years when I couldn’t drive which was really hard. Relying on people to get you to your grocery store. That was brutal.”
Freeman made his England debut in the win over Australia in Brisbane in July 2022 before retaining his place in the starting XV the following week as the visitors won the series.
Things soon fell apart, but after watching the Saints star in 15 months away from testing, with Jonny May retiring, Anthony Watson returning from injury and Jack Nowell and Henry Arundell ineligible for selection, the wing now feels it is ready to take its chances. .
“In Australia it was new and the first cap and I just wasted every minute and every chance I got – just letting it all sink in,” he said.
“I felt young and it was like I was accepting everything instead of saying the word and getting my foot in the door.
“Now I feel better and, as far as the team is concerned, I know where we want to go.
“I’ve matured physically, understanding my body. A lot of it is also emotional and now I’m just being myself and expressing myself as much as I can.”