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Exeter in France: 'There's no Novak Djokovic business going on...'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Dan Mullan/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

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Rob Baxter has avoided confirming in advance of Friday’s Exeter team announcement whether Henry Slade will be included in the Chiefs team to face Montpellier on Sunday in the Heineken Champions Cup – but he has insisted his player IS available for selection. The England midfielder generated media headlines last May when he revealed he had adopted a wait-and-see approach regarding whether he would take the vaccination for Covid-19. 

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As a type-one diabetic, he told The Telegraph in an interview eight months ago: “I don’t think you can trust it, can you? I don’t think it [vaccination against Covid] has been going long. There is no way of knowing what could happen with it in the future. I am perfectly fit and healthy. I don’t fancy it at all.”

The comments resulted in Slade getting branded as an anti-vaxxer and it quickly resulted in him having to issue a clarification regarding what he had to say. “I have no hidden agenda against the current, nationwide roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccination programme,” he clarified. 

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“When the time comes for me to make an informed decision on whether or not I take up the option of having the vaccination, I will of course consider the thoughts of my family and friends, the latest Government advice, as well as all others around me.”

In the meantime, Slade has impressively got on with his rugby, continuing to star for both club and country, but this weekend’s European fixture in France has now resulted in a reheat of his original comments.

Current pandemic travel regulations in France stipulate that everyone arriving in that country must have a vaccine pass, a requirement that resulted in Exeter coach Baxter having to field questions at his midweek media briefing on the availability of Slade for the match that will determine where the Chiefs will finish in their European pool. 

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“He is available, yes,” said Baxter when asked if Slade, a starter in all six Exeter matches since his return to the club following his England duty in November, could feature at Montpellier.   “Put it this way, if you don’t see him picked it won’t be because he is injured unless he gets injured today [Wednesday] in training.

“Surmise of it what you want. The truth is – and I know Henry doesn’t mind me saying this – despite what everybody said and what everyone tried to report, Henry never said that he wasn’t going to get vaccinated. 

“He said at the time he wanted to see what the situation was and that was months and months and months ago. That is all I am prepared to say because that is what Henry said was fine to say. He never said he wasn’t going to have it, he said he wanted to see what the situation was. Everybody else seems to have surmised what they want from that. 

“It is not for me to discuss every player’s individual medical status but you guys will see the team when we go over there and we have got no players with medical exemptions or anything like that, so there is no Novak Djokovic business going on anywhere. 

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“That is all I can say. It’s not for me to go through my team one at a time and tell you who is vaccinated and who is not. It’s just like every other Premiership side: we are pro-vaccine, we have encouraged it with our players and the majority of our players, the large, large, large majority of our players, are (vaccinated) and we haven’t got an issue going to France based on vaccinations… I’ll be honest with you, it has no effect on us.”

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