Henry Slade’s return to the England squad is being welcomed after missing the first two rounds of Six Nations action. 

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The Exeter Chiefs centre was a mainstay of Eddie Jones’ side in 2019, either in the starting XV or from the bench, but has been recovering from a fractured ankle which he sustained in December. 

He is in the 25-man England training squad ahead of Ireland’s visit to Twickenham on February 23 alongside centre partner Manu Tuilagi, who missed the Calcutta Cup clash after suffering a recurrence of a groin injury against France the week before. 

Slade’s partnership with Tuilagi was one of the biggest breakthroughs of 2019 for Jones, and the way he was able to chop and change between those two – and other combinations with George Ford and Owen Farrell – meant the Australian always had options for whoever England were playing. 

This was most clearly shown in the World Cup where the Farrell-Tuilagi-Slade combination was used to combat a strong Australian midfield in the quarter-final, but the Ford-Farrell-Tuilagi combination was utilised a week later against the All Blacks. 

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Not long now ??

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Not only does Slade have a high class distributing and offloading game at outside centre, but his kicking game is fundamental to the way in which England play, particularly with Jonny May chasing. His subtlety and creativity complement Tuilagi’s power, which is what made them so dangerous. 

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Even if Jones opted to play Ford at fly-half, Farrell at inside centre and Tuilagi in the 13 shirt, Slade still provided a lot of options from the bench with the players being so versatile positionally. 

To play the bulk of the Six Nations so far without two of England’s most crucial midfield players last year has cost them. 

Tuilagi lasted less than 20 minutes in the loss to France, meaning Jonathan Joseph partnered Farrell and Ford, which proved to be fairly lightweight against a brutal French defence. 

The potential return of both Tuilagi and Slade could make an immeasurable impact in England’s hopes of beating Ireland, particularly after the two of them were so effective in the same fixture at the Aviva Stadium last year. 

Most importantly, it gives Jones options for the rest of the tournament and a chance to get England back on track. 

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