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'Even Henry would admit he was out of sorts earlier in the season'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Exeter boss Rob Baxter believes Henry Slade is poised to enjoy a rewarding 2023 back in the thick of it with England. The midfielder slipped down the Test pecking order in the final year of the Eddie Jones era, missing last July’s tour to Australia due to a long-awaited shoulder injury and then only getting picked as a sub for all four Autumn Nations Series matches.

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Slade managed to impress with some of those Test bench cameos, his energy especially useful in the remarkable England comeback to draw with the All Blacks. He has since started the last four Exeter games at outside centre and his club coach is now tipping him for recognition under new Test-level boss Steve Borthwick.

Asked about the recent form of Slade, Baxter said at his media briefing ahead of this Saturday’s Gallagher Premiership home game versus Northampton: “He’s pretty good. His performances are on the upward curve, which is brilliant. We needed him to be. Even Henry would admit he was a little out of sorts earlier in the season.

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“This last month, six weeks, he has really settled down, performing very well, very consistently. Good time on the training field, good time on the field. He is definitely one of those guys who is on the right path to be showing good form in the Six Nations, without a doubt.”

November wasn’t the greatest month for Exeter players at Twickenham. Aside from the role of Slade being limited to the bench, Jack Nowell was a late cry-off versus Japan and was dropped versus South Africa, as was Luke Cowan-Dickie, while Sam Simmonds rotated an England starting role with Billy Vunipola.

Queried if the subsequent change in leadership from Jones to Borthwick has had a galvanising effect on the England Test players in the Exeter squad, Baxter added: “We have been so in the thick of it with week-by-week games, I don’t think anybody has stopped and thought that far ahead. At the moment when these guys who are involved in the EPS squad are playing, they are playing well. That’s all I can say.

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“I actually thought Jack Nowell was probably our best player at Saracens. That’s a guy who can just get on with things in different situations, even when it is tough. He just gets on with things and makes things go his way, so he is bang-on form. And certainly, Henry is showing some real form and is on that upward curve now where he has been before.

“Luke Cowan-Dickie scored a hat-trick last time he played and was the man of the match (against the Bulls last month), so I don’t think you can say anybody is not enthused by what they are doing. They are all looking forward to it.”

Quizzed how the 29-year-old Slade coped with his below-par form earlier in the season, Baxter continued: “Every player has to go through those kinds of moments where things go well for you, you work hard and you feel you are on a natural path and things tick along – and then come those bits of frustration and disappointment and they can dent you a little bit.

“Other things change in your life, young children come along, your lifestyle changes and you reset yourself. I look at Henry and think he is a guy that can very much move forward and have some very good years because of the player he is. He is a good footballer, a good guy to be around.

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“He works hard and is diligent in what he does. There is a lot left in him. I’m not concerned about him being someone who is on a downward curve at all. Him managing himself, us managing him – I am not talking about physical management because he is not a guy who is carrying injuries, knocks, bangs and bruises.

“I’m just talking about that mental approach to everything that you do and that freshness and that enthusiasm. That is making sure we as a group of coaches and him as a player, we just want to drive that all the time.”

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