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Veainu backs 'talented' Steward to impress

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Telusa Veainu makes his long-awaited return to action in this afternoon's European clash with Calvisano at Welford Road.

However, it is not in the fullback shirt the Tongan international has starred in throughout his time at Tigers.

The international outside back has been named among the replacements for the Challenge Cup fixture after a month out with a facial injury suffered in the win over Gloucester at Welford Road in November.

Speaking about his return, Veainu said: "I'm fine and felling good."

"I can't wait to get back out there and be amongst it with the boys."

With Veainu on the bench and George Worth left out the side after featuring in every game of the 2019/20 campaign so far this season, the No. 15 shirt will instead be worn by 19-year-old Freddie Steward.

The Tigers Academy graduate's appearance will be his first start at home and debut in an European competition.

Some fullbacks, with the international standing in the game like Veainu's, might be upset to be deputising for a teenager but that's not the case according to the man himself.

"I am really, really looking forward to seeing him play," said Veainu.

"I had a word with him this week and just told him to enjoy himself, because it is just another game.

"He needs to pick his moments during the game and take chances when they come."

Steward's senior debut came earlier in 2019, in a Premiership Rugby Cup away game against Northampton Saints, and since then he has made his Premiership debut and a home debut off the bench earlier in the current campaign.

Watching on throughout that time and having had the chance to play and train alongside Steward, Veainu is one of the best judges to share his thoughts on what the Norfolk product offers.

"He is deceptively fast, has a good offloading game and is really, really talented," he said.

"He has time on his hands, which gives you a good indication of how good someone is."

Steward's appearance at the back today will see him partner the experienced Adam Thompstone and one of the world's premier wingers in Jonny May, as well as getting a chance to run off England fly-half George Ford among other internationals.

And Veainu, who has had that luxury in recent seasons, says the experience will only benefit the Leicester youngster.

"What an opportunity it is for him this weekend, to play alongside guys like Geroge Ford and Jonny May to help him and his development," Veainu said.

During the past week, in which Steward celebrated his 19th birthday, Veainu has had the chance to work even closer with his fellow fullback and believes his maturity and willingness to improve is already setting him on the right path.

"I like the way he is so eager to learn," added Veainu.

"He is not scared to learn and improve.

"He asks the right questions and not just for the sake of it, he wants to get better and that's going to make him a better player."

Throughout their time together in preparation for the showdown with Calvisano, Veainu has also made a point of not trying to help Steward too much.

According to the senior of the pair, that will - surprisingly - only hold him back.

And, he's proof himself of why that is the case after being on the other side when he first arrived at Tigers and had two legends of Leicester as mentors.

"We have chatted about field position and the specifics around the fullback role," said Veainu, when asked of what the pair had worked on together this week.

"I will help him in whatever way he wants but, what I tell him is only part of it ... his natural ability and hard work will make him great, I don't want to take away from that."

"I was lucky enough to learn from great fullbacks like Mat Tait and Geordan [Murphy], who always told me to do what I do naturally and added little things to help me improve."

So, what does Steward offer that Veainu doesn't?

His response time was short.

The answer, not so much.

"The biggest differences?" Veainu asked, before quickly adding: "Well, he's much taller than me!"

In front of a Tigers crowd that has not enjoyed success in recent seasons and expressed their views on all players during recent weeks across social media and forums, Steward will undoubtedly feel more pressure than he might if he were at the back in a side flying high.

However Veainu, who is never one to hold back his thoughts, gave a typically Telusa reply with his feelings on the scenario facing Steward.

"Who cares what people think?" he said almost immediately after being posed the question.

"It's all about him worrying about himself and nothing else ... it's going to be a long journey for him and I am confident he will be great, but nobody can expect the world from him.

"It will take time, he's only 18 and that's what is most exciting."

If asked for any final advice ahead of kick-off, what will Telusa tell young Freddie?

"Take a breath, enjoy the moment and do your thing," he said.

"He's very, very good and we'll see that on Saturday at Welford Road, trust me."