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Japan’s need for speed has Henry Slade on red alert

Exeter's Henry Slade in action for England last Saturday in France (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

England vice-captain Henry Slade has singled out his likely opposite number Dylan Riley as a key threat for Japan in Saturday’s anticipated first official Test match between the two nations to be played in Japan.

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Slade, 31, who, with 62 caps under his belt, is one of the most experienced players in a youthful looking squad, starts at outside-centre in a game which fans in the UK and Ireland can watch for free on RugbyPass.TV

The Gallagher Premiership 2023-24 Player of the Yearwas named in head coach Steve Borthwick’s line-up on Tuesday morning.

Slade told Rugby Pass: “They’re always tough games against Japan, they play with a lot of speed and they like to move the ball which is always a challenge for the defence.

“These are the games I enjoy playing in and defensively as an outside-centre it’s the teams who play with width that are the toughest to play against.”

Slade is aware of the threat history-seeking Japan poses as they aim to topple England for the first time and identified Dylan Riley, who is expected to feature at 13 when their team is named, as a player that commands his attention.

“Japan has threats all over the team but in my position, Dylan Riley is a very good attacking player and we’ll have to be very good to stop him,” said the standout Exeter Chiefs star.

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Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights’ Riley scored 14 tries this season in League One as his side was narrowly defeated in the final by Michael Leitch and Richie Mo’unga’s Toshiba Brave Lupus.

The dynamic former Australia u20s international, who can also play on the wing, featured off the bench for his adopted country in their loss to England at the Rugby World Cup in France.

Japan’s evergreen hero Leitch was also singled out by Slade who said: “Leitch, the long-time captain, is a talisman for his side.”

Slade and a host of his teammates are relishing the prospect of coming up against their former coach Eddie Jones who takes charge of the Brave Blossoms for the first time since returning to the role in December.

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“It’s exciting to go up against Eddie who coached us for a long time,” he said.

“He was a fantastic coach for us for a number of years and he gave me a lot of opportunities and I’ll always be grateful for that.”

With a bumper crowd expected at the National Stadium in Tokyo, which attracted 56,000 fans for the League One final in May, Slade stressed the importance of England not being distracted from their own game plan as Jones looks to mark his return by recording an upset over his former employers.

“We are just focusing on ourselves and planning to bring the best game we can bring.

“We know Japan is a good side and will cause any team problems.”

The draw of Jones’ first game back and the chance of earning a scalp over England – a side ranked seven places higher – has captured the attention of Japanese fans who are keen to see a return to the “super-fast” brand of rugby they enjoyed during the Australian’s first reign.

The new-look Brave Blossoms squad is replete with League One stars and Slade praised the growth of Japan’s domestic game – which you can watch free in the UK and Ireland on Rugby Pass.

“We’ve seen plenty of highlights of League One and we’ve done our pre-game analysis of that footage.

“The league is constantly improving all the time and they have some fantastic players here including some of the best in the world.”

 

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