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By Neale Harvey
Ed Slater’s leadership skills have helped fire Gloucester into Premiership title contention, according to Cherry & Whites skipper Willi Heinz.
Slater arrived at Kingsholm as a makeweight in the shock summer move that saw Jonny May head to Leicester. However, Heinz believes Gloucester may have got better value from the deal given the new-found solidity of their pack.
Heinz told The Rugby Paper: “Ed’s been great coming in from Leicester. He knows what it takes to win close games, has really added some forward grunt and, having captained sides before, he’s been a great leader to have alongside me.
“The core group of our team has been together for a few years now and we’ve learnt some pretty harsh lessons over the last couple of seasons, so we’ve been proud of our turnaround and new guys like Ed have lead from the front.”
Scrum-half Heinz has impressed as captain since taking over from the departed Greig Laidlaw.
He said: “It was a massive honour to take on the captaincy and if you look at all the good leaders around, they’re also people who just go out and do their roles – that’s my focus and I’m just trying to do the best job I can at No.9.
“The squad’s in a good place physically at the moment. We had a lot of injuries early on in the season but now we’ve just about got a full squad to choose from, with guys like Jason Woodward and Ross Moriarty to return.
“The shift to a more attacking game plan has helped and some of our young boys like Ollie Thorley, Henry Purdy, Jake Polledri, Lewis Ludlow and Freddie Clarke are really leading the way. The club’s heading in a positive direction.”
Heinz, 31, is being pushed hard for his pivotal position by livewire academy product Ben Vellacott, who is pushing on to England’s radar.
However, Heinz, the English-qualified New Zealander still has Red Rose ambitions of his own after featuring in a training camp last May.
“Ben’s had a really good start to his Premiership career, having come on in games and really added value,” said Heinz. “He’s such a threat with his running game and lethal sidestep, so he’s got a good future for club and country.
“But I’ve still got my own ambitions and I’ve had a couple of chats with Eddie Jones. Being invited to that training camp was a real surprise, but it’s an incredibly impressive set-up and being around those top players was great.
“There are a lot of quality No.9s in the Premiership and England’s blessed with guys who’ve been doing the job for a number of years, but I’m in good form and I’ll just try to play well for Gloucester and see what happens.”
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