He’s been shunted around between fly-half, inside centre and at 13, but multi-talent Exeter Chiefs back Henry Slade needs to nail down one position to get himself into the England test team.
Against Clermont Auvergne he acted as a replacement fly-half for Gareth Steenson, the week before he acted as inside centre against Gloucester in a partnership with Sam Hill. Earlier in the season he was playing at fly-half and previously for the Chiefs Slade has lined up at 13, so where exactly does he fit into the England equation?
Given the talent the Red Rose and Eddie Jones have at their disposal at 10, it might seem like a no-brainer. Bath’s George Ford is the incumbent and since Australian Jones arrived he has been a revelation for England, rediscovering the form that saw him elevated to the senior squad in the first place.
Then there’s Saracens’ Owen Farrell, struck down with injury problems this season but slowly starting to come back into the side and hopefully ready to start for England before the tests begin. Although normally Saracens’ first choice fly-half, Farrell has proven an excellent option for England as a second five-eighth of inside centre.
Having two distributors and essentially fly-halves at 10 and 12 is working well for England, with Ford and Farrell working in partnership to get the most out of talented backs Jonathan Joseph, Jack Nowell, Anthony Watson and Mike Brown.
If Farrell is fit in time to play South Africa then Slade will not get a look-in into the starting line-up. However, he could fit in as a utility back replacement option from the bench.
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Jones may decide to give the Exeter man his chance against Fiji or Argentina, with four tough internationals in a row demanding much from the country’s playing resources. If so, it would be truly exciting to see Slade working in partnership with George Ford. Slade can be more of a running threat than Farrell and this is something Eddie Jones has raised previously (via Sky Sports):
“I like the way he plays – he has got a bit of everything, if he can get his running game back – he has got a kicking game, he has got a passing game and they are the sort of backs we have.
“I think he is coming back to form. I just want him to play rugby, run with the ball instead of being just a passing machine.”
Given England can field up to four quality fly-halves in Ford, Farrell, Cipriani and Lozowski, it would make a lot of sense for Slade to continue to play at 12 for the foreseeable future.
The talents he has at his disposal would make him an excellent second five-eighth in the long term and he could become more of a natural fit there than Farrell currently is.
Regardless of where Slade plays though, he is going to face considerable competition, particularly if Manu Tuilagi can finally get over the injury problems that have plagued him for the best part of two years.
With all this talent emerging, it certainly is an interesting and fantastic time to be an England supporter.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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