In September, England will kick off the world cup against the Fijians. Between now and then, Lancaster and his coaching team must decide who they want to select for arguably one of our most important rugby world cups, given that it is on home soil. They must whittle down the 50 man squad to just 31.
The squad is littered with young talent, and one of them is Exeter Chief’s starlet Henry Slade.
Slade made his Chiefs debut in 2012 versus London Welsh, and since then has become one of England’s hottest prospects. In 2013, he helped guide the England u20 side to their first Rugby Championship, defeating Wales 23-15 in the final. At the end of the 2013/14 Premiership season he was selected to play for England in their match against the Barbarians. Slade notched up 16 of the team’s 29 points, having scored a try and amassed 11 points from the tee.
Slade started this year’s season at outside-centre, but in January he was selected in his preferred position of fly-half. His good early season form earned him a call up to the England Saxons squad to play the Irish Wolfhounds in January. The Saxons ran out 18-9 winners, with Slade crossing the whitewash and totalling 13 points. He played all 22 matches in the league, and accumulated 150 points (7 tries, 17 conversions and 27 penalties).
At the end of season awards night, Slade picked up Young Player of the Season, and deservedly so. He was later selected into Lancaster’s 50 man training squad for the world cup. Lancaster consequently picked him to start at inside-centre last weekend against the Barbarians. In their thumping 73-12 win, Slade scored yet another try against the Baabaas.
Slade has all the attributes to become a world class player. From a fly-half you need them to be able to read the game exceptionally well. Slade guided the Chiefs to fifth in the league – a position many pundits (in particular Austin Healey) couldn’t see them claiming. After the game last weekend, Cipriani praised Slade for constantly shouting instructions to him, which he said made the game a lot easier. He’s a point scoring player, and along with his boot, Slade has crossed the line plenty of times in the past year, including three times in an England shirt. Slade may not be the biggest player on the pitch, but he certainly defends well. You’d have to spend hours trawling through footage to see a missed tackle. He also possesses great hands, and as shown on Sunday can pass well and get his team on the front-foot. His side-step too can’t go amiss, and his ability to find a gap and exploit it is just a regular occurrence for him.
All of these attributes contribute to Slade being an exciting talent. But for the world cup, his competitors for a spot in that squad have similar and just as good characteristics. I believe there are two things about him which make him a necessary player to have in the 23 man team. Firstly, he can kick. If he plays for England, it will be at 12. Unless you move Farrell to 12, there isn’t another inside-centre who can kick like he does (Ignoring Twelvetrees because I don’t want to see him anywhere near an England jersey).
To highlight how important his kicking could be, here’s a scenario: George Ford is on in the world cup final, and like he sometimes does, is kicking terribly. England need someone to step up and take over the kicking duties. Thankfully, Lancaster has read this article and he decided to play Slade at 12, who steps up and slots a penalty which makes England win the world cup.
Secondly, his versatility to play across the backs makes him an asset. He can play at fly-half or in the centres. If he didn’t start, he becomes an ideal player to have on the bench.
So, who is Slade competing with?
Brad Barritt seems to be the first choice. He’s a workhorse in midfield, and defensively there’s no one better than him. However, he can’t kick, and doesn’t possess the attacking prowess Slade holds. Luther Burrell was England’s 12 in the Six Nations, due to injuries of other players, and is a great player. But I believe he’s just a slightly worse Barritt. Finally, Kyle Eastmond is knocking. Every Bath fan believes that England should just select their back-line.
No thank you.
Eastmond won’t make England’s 31 man squad.
I’ve ignored Twelvetrees because I think that’s a massive step in the wrong direction. Furthermore I wouldn’t want to see Daly and Joseph playing together. I see Daly as our second choice outside-centre. And lastly although Lancaster might select Farrell at 12, I really hope he doesn’t because it makes us one dimensional and predictable – something the All Blacks and South Africa will lap up in the world cup.
Therefore if Slade isn’t at 12, I’d hope to see him on the bench. He possesses so much talent and has the potential to be a match winner. I believe he’ll certainly make the 31 man squad, and if he doesn’t I’ll be writing a strongly worded letter to Lancaster.