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Space man Henry Slade backed to provide England lift-off

Henry SladeHenry Slade is primed and ready to resolve England’s deepening midfield crisis, according to Exeter backs coach Ali Hepher.

With summer hero Owen Farrell beset by injury, Manu Tuilagi out until late-November and Ben Te’o still to prove himself at Worcester, Red Rose boss Eddie Jones is short of inside-centre options ahead of autumn’s Test opener against South Africa.

Hepher, below, reckons Jones can rely on Slade, telling The Rugby Paper: “Sladey’s played very, very well in midfield for us over the last few weeks.

“I’m not sure if England are looking at him more as a midfielder or a 10, but he’s in good form and he’s the type of midfielder Eddie likes after playing Farrell there.

“Nobody’s quite sure when Farrell will be coming back from injury so I would imagine Henry’s pretty prominent in England’s thinking – and rightly so.”

Hepher added: “Henry’s a beautiful passer and he’s got more time on the ball than most, so he’s got that ability to put people into space, plus he can kick space.

“He brings that left-footed option, defends very well and he’s always adding bits to his game.

“He’s only 23 but he’s certainly a guy who’s capable of playing at top international level – he just needs that opportunity to prove it now.”

While Slade shines, there is more good news for England following the return from thumb surgery of talismanic winger Jack Nowell.

Hepher reckons there is much more to come from the Cornishman, explaining: “Jack’s the sort of guy who has influence over a game, both for ourselves and England, and we miss what he brings when he’s away.

“He’s enthusiastic to get the ball in his hands and he’s got the ability to beat the first defender virtually every time, so that’s a fantastic combination and the level of communication goes up for any side he plays for.

“Towards the end of last season he was a dominant force and hopefully he’ll get back to that level pretty quickly because there’s a lot more to come from him, particularly at international level in terms of midfield play.

“When he’s on the ball he’s dangerous and at international level they need to get him on the ball more often. The more England encourage him to go roaming, it would be good for him and great news for the team.”

Exeter begin their Champions Cup campaign at home to French cracks Clermont Auvergne next week and Hepher believes they are contenders.

He said: “We managed to beat Clermont last year and we’re definitely a better team now for our experiences in the competition.

“Reaching last year’s quarter-finals gives us confidence and we’re no longer underdogs – we’re up there as potential pool winners.”

NEALE HARVEY

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