Analysis: Slade hitting the high notes at last

It has taken some time for Eddie Jones to warm to Henry Slade.

It has taken some time for Eddie Jones to warm to Henry Slade.

The Exeter centre has had to wait for his turn in England’s problematic midfield positions.

But patience appears to be finally paying off after two rounds of the 2019 Guinness Six Nations as the 25-year-old Slade has finally arrived on the international stage.


It was Stuart Lancaster that gave Slade – a converted fly-half at Exeter Chiefs – his international bow in the run-up to the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

But his passage to the top has been a circuitous one, a broken leg stalled Slade, who is also a diabetic, in the early days of the Jones reign.

And while he was never completely ignored, it was Jonathan Joseph and then Ben Te’o who appeared top of the pecking order for England’s No.13 jersey.

But slowly but surely, Slade has won his head coach around, starting all three Tests last summer in South Africa and three of four this past autumn.


But his coming out party was undoubtedly Dublin – the full blossoming of his talents in a Red Rose jersey.

His first-ever Championship start saw him run in a second-half double as England downed the defending Grand Slam champions in their own backyard.

Manu Tuilagi started alongside him in the centres that day – the first time that pairing have played together in their career.

And while Slade is no lightweight, standing 6ft3in tall and over 15st, he is undoubtedly better when playing alongside a beast of Tuilagi’s proportions.

But it is his mindset that has made the difference, according to his head coach.

“Every game, Sladey is getting a little bit better,” said Jones after that Dublin dream.

“He’s a guy that maybe at first he didn’t think he was good enough for England and now he’s thinking about how good he can be.

“You build players mentally by picking them because then they know you love them, and we’ve done that with him. He’s played seven of our last eight Tests at outside centre, so he knows I love him and that helps.”


As a former No.10, Slade’s attacking gifts have never really been in doubt.

With fewer defenders in your face at 13 than at fly-half, Slade has more time to pick his poison.

He can step around you. Just ask Guilhem Guirado, who tackled Slade’s shadow at Twickenham when the centre went over for his third try of this Championship already.

He can fire a pinpoint pass off either hand. Just watch the way he puts Jonny May in the clear down the left wing in Dublin.

Or he can sprint away from you. See how he chases down May’s chip over the top in the same move.

And if nothing is on with ball in hand, he can kick beautifully off either foot. His preferred left created May’s second in Le Crunch last weekend with a massive up and under, and his equally impressive right grubbered in behind to turn Ireland’s back three in Dublin the week before.


But really, it is his improved defensive work that has seen him emerge as England’s nailed on No.13.

Clearly given free licence by defence coach John Mitchell to shoot out and cause carnage in the opponent’s backline, Slade has shown a real affinity for the intercept – previously his rival Joseph’s calling card.

He has three already in this year’s Championship, two of which have led to tries for England.

But he is also is willing to put his head in where it hurts, making 13 tackles in Dublin and six more against France.

His partnership and understanding with Tuilagi is only going to grow the more they play together.

And while Joseph and Te’o are both back fit and firing, in a position that has been England’s Achilles heel for the best part of two decades, Slade is the man in charge.

The wait appears to be over, both for England and for Slade.