Henry Slade reinvention propels him back into England contention

Henry Slade - Slade has reinvented himself and propelled himself back into England contention
Henry Slade has constantly been the difference maker for Exeter Chiefs - Getty Images/Norbert Scanella

Having singled himself out in a fearless Exeter side punching above its weight near the Premiership summit, Henry Slade finds himself in a prime position to be included in Steve Borthwick’s Six Nations squad.

When Slade was unceremoniously axed from England’s World Cup plans last summer, many might have assumed his international career was done.

But rather than wallow in the grief of his high-profile omission, the 30-year-old has spent this season reinventing himself in a Chiefs’ side that has shown signs of green shoots in the wake of a mass player exodus.

Slade’s season has thus far been a showreel of star studded moments. From belting over a match-winning penalty against Gloucester last November, a feat which he replicated weeks later when Chiefs stunned three-time European winners Toulon, not to mention single-handedly inspiring Exeter to their first away win over a year against Newcastle, he has been an instrumental figure in Chiefs’ unlikely title challenge.

As the Premiership’s top points-scorer, Chiefs’ Mr Reliable will have another opportunity to lay down a marker this weekend when Exeter face Northampton in a top-of-the-table clash at Sandy Park, where the hosts are targeting an eighth win of the campaign.

With two weeks until Borthwick names his squad, Rob Baxter, the Exeter Chiefs director of rugby who has been busily overseeing a new chapter after Jack Nowell, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Sam Simmonds and Dave Ewers all moved onto pastures new last summer, is under no illusions that his most faithful servant is deserving of an international recall.

“I am very confident that Henry is in and about and in the mix there,” said Baxter, when pressed on his player’s Six Nations prospects. “There are a number of centres who are playing well, but I am certain he will be in the mix, and that’s why it is important he keeps playing with the quality he is playing with. I can’t see he is far off [from] being there.”

With Manu Tuilagi set to miss the start of the championship with a groin injury and Joe Marchant ineligible for selection after moving across the channel to Stade Francais, Slade would appear a safe pair of hands in midfield.

Since being overlooked by Borthwick last summer, he has shone as a big-game player during what many thought would be an experimental campaign for Baxter’s burgeoning outfit.

Gladiatorial back-rower Greg Fisilau, explosive winger Immanuel Feyi-Waboso and all-action fullback Ben Hammerseley  – the latter two who are polished gems from Exeter University’s ranks  – are among the young guns who are making waves in South Devon.

Immanuel Feyi-Waboso - Henry Slade has reinvented himself and propelled himself back into England contention
Immanuel Feyi-Waboso is qualified to play for both Wales and England at Test level - Getty Images/Bob Bradford

Feyi-Waboso, the Cardiff-born 21-year-old who is surely to be snapped up by England or Wales in the coming weeks, has raised plenty of eyebrows with his impressive performances, but Slade is hot property in his own right and comes with a premium after featuring in the 2015 and 2019 World Cups.

Baxter has a penchant for trusting young talent and exposing them to the demands of top-flight rugby but there is little doubt that Slade, capped 56 times for England, has helped bring out the best in them.

Having experience is one thing, but having the nous to raise your game when there are young sparks flying around you is another. “His seniority is only important if he also trains and plays with an energy and a drive that the younger players do, because without that it doesn’t mean anything,” said Baxter.

“That’s what is really pleasing to me with Henry’s performances is that he is training and playing and talking with a vibe and an energy like he is the same age as them, but the benefit is he has got hundreds of games more experience, and international experience as well, and that’s why it is valuable.”

Slade’s England future could have bearing over new Exeter deal

Slade is out of his contract at the end of the season but being the beneficiary of one of the 25 hybrid contracts England Rugby’s – which the governing body will make available from next season – could be one incentive to staying in South Devon.

“In my mind it’s not important to us, but how important it is for Henry is for Henry to decide,” said Baxter, rather diplomatically. “He’ll know that in the next couple of weeks and that’ll help him decide what he wants to do.

“We want to keep him, we know we want him to stay, so we’re in a little bit of a limbo process at the moment where Henry wants all the information on the table with what happens with England, and then he can sit down with an open mind and assess all his options.”

Uncertainty might continue to swirl around his future, but Slade has done everything in his power to be brought back in from the international wilderness sooner rather than later.

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