Henry Slade says he is living off the ‘infectious enthusiasm’ his young Exeter Chiefs team-mates are bringing to training and matches this season.
Written by Mark Stevens, PPA Sports Content exclusively for RUCK.
Having seen many of his close pals depart Sandy Park last summer for pastures new, the 30-year-old playmaker is now regarded as one the senior statesmen in Devon, helping to mould the club’s next golden generation.
It’s a role the 56-capped England international is happy to take on, particularly given the way the Chiefs have started the new Gallagher Premiership season. Wins over Saracens, Sale and, more recently, Bristol Bears have propelled Rob Baxter’s side to the table top after four rounds of battle.
Slade, however, has not been surprised by the performances put in by the Chiefs, instead highlighting the benefits of a productive close season, one in which a new energy, as well as a tweak to the game plan, have produced instant impact.
“The boys are on fire at the minute, but that’s down to the hard work everyone at the club is putting in,” said Slade, who on Sunday reached the milestone of making 150 Premiership appearances for the club.
“Because we’ve got so many new faces, it’s like we’ve been able to start from the beginning again. For a lot of the boys, they’ve got points to prove. They’ve not experienced too many situations like they’ve had so far, so it’s all new for them, but they are thriving in the environment.”
Equally, Slade – together with other senior players – are themselves finding a new lease of life – and it’s showing in their on-field performances.
“The energy the young boys are bringing is awesome and kind of infectious for the rest of us,” he added. “I’ve been here a while now and I’ve been fortunate to be part of some great teams, several of which have gone on to win trophies.
“Part of my role is to help guide those young players through different scenarios each week, but I’m also learning new things all the time. People watching us this season will see we’ve tweaked our game plan a bit. The coaches have allowed us to play with a bit more freedom and you’re seeing what we can do in our performances.”
At the same time, a solid set-piece game is also assisting the Chiefs and Slade acknowledges it is helping provide a perfect foundation from which he and his fellow backs can attack.
“People will remember when we were winning big games, getting to finals, winning trophies, that was all down to us having a strong set-piece,” said Slade. “As a player there were times when I knew if we were five metres from the line, nothing was going to stop us scoring.
“It’s a bit different now, but the work the forwards are doing each week is definitely helping give us that freedom to play and that’s key.”
Slade was speaking in the wake of hitting the Premiership milestone, something he did not realise had occurred until after the game on Sunday.
“It’s a pretty cool achievement,” said Slade, who made his top-flight debut coming off the bench against London Irish in 2013 to replace Gareth Steenson. “When you think about it, it feels like it’s flown by, but it’s quite a few years really.
“As I said, I’ve been lucky to play with a lot of great players over the years. What we have achieved as a club, as players, it’s something special. Hopefully, I can add to those memories with this new group because I do believe we’re building something special again.”
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England uncapped players: 5 ones to watch ahead of 2024 Six Nations
- Josh Hodge (Exeter Chiefs):
Josh Hodge, a rising star from the Exeter Chiefs, has been turning heads with his exceptional performances in the Premiership.
The 22-year-old fullback possesses an electrifying turn of pace, a deadly accurate boot, and a natural flair for creating try-scoring opportunities. Hodge’s ability to slot seamlessly into the backline and provide an additional attacking threat makes him an exciting prospect for the Six Nations.
Borthwick should consider calling up Hodge to inject some youthful exuberance into the squad and provide a different dimension to England’s backline.