Henry Slade: Exeter Chiefs' England centre to put World Cup final loss behind him

By Brent PilnickBBC Sport
Henry Slade
Henry Slade has been part of England's past two World Cup squads

"I'm not one to dwell on things," says Henry Slade deep in the bowels of Exeter's Sandy Park stadium.

It is less than two weeks since he was preparing for a World Cup final against South Africa, having been part of an England squad that had demolished New Zealand and Australia in the previous knockout rounds.

Eight days after that shattering defeat in Yokohama's International Stadium, Slade played for Exeter against Bristol last Sunday - his first start for the club since they lost to Saracens in the Premiership final in June.

Slade's attitude is even more impressive when you consider the rollercoaster of emotions he went through in the build-up and during the tournament in Japan.

A knee injury meant the 26-year-old missed all of England's warm-up matches and he aggravated the injury on his comeback in the opening pool game against Tonga.

A man many thought would be first choice ended up with more of a bit-part role, with George Ford and Owen Farrell operating so well at 10 and 12.

An impressive showing in the quarter-final win over Australia - his only start of the tournament, featuring a memorable break and kick ahead to set up Jonny May's try - suggested a return to frontline status.

But Ford was brought back for the semi-final and final, with Slade forced to settle for replacement appearances early in the second half of both games.

"It may or may not have been different for me, but things happen and you've just got to get on with it," he reflected.

England's progression under Eddie Jones

Henry Slade
Henry Slade was the only player to start for his club last weekend after featuring for England in the World Cup final a week earlier

Slade has not been able to bring himself to watch the final and clearly still finds it difficult to talk about.

"They played very well, they were very physical and they nailed it pretty much," he says of South Africa. "And we obviously didn't.

"After the game in the changing rooms we were very disappointed initially, but then you've got to take a step back and think about where we came from four years ago."

Slade has a point. He was part of Stuart Lancaster's squad which failed to get out of the group stage in 2015.

It seemed as though Slade, then a young up-and-coming star at Exeter, would miss out as Lancaster seemed set to pick rugby league convert Sam Burgess ahead of him.

In the end he took both, but opted for Burgess, leaving Slade in the stands aside from a try-scoring start against Uruguay in England's dead rubber final group game in Manchester.

"When Eddie Jones took over we were around eighth in the world and just been knocked out of the home World Cup, it was pretty dark times," said Slade.

"The way the team's evolved over the past three or four years has been massive, we can take a lot of pride in that.

"Everyone was disappointed and upset about losing the final, as you would be, but I think if we're to take a step back and think about the bigger picture of things, that was a positive period for English rugby."

'I can't have any arguments'

Henry Slade against Australia
Many were surprised Slade's excellent display against Australia did not result in a start in the semi-final against New Zealand

And what about being dropped for the semi-final against the All Blacks?

"I didn't know it was coming," Slade said. "It was disappointing, but you've got to respect the coach's decision and go with it and it obviously worked.

"The way he explained it to me was that New Zealand win a lot of their games in the last 20 minutes, so he wanted the last 20 or 30 minutes for us to be strong and he hoped that I could help with that.

"I got a decent amount of game time, just under a half, so I was pretty pleased with that. I can't have any arguments."

While Slade and his Exeter team-mates Jack Nowell and Luke Cowan-Dickie did not come back from Japan victorious, Slade's boss at club level - Chiefs' director of rugby Rob Baxter - says they will still be treated as winners.

Baxter said: "Everyone will want autographs and everyone will want pictures and the fact that they didn't get what they wanted out of the World Cup will not matter one iota to the people here.

"They love them for what they do for the club and love them for what they've seen them do for their country and they will be really appreciative that they're here and playing for the club."

So can Slade help England go one better and lift the Webb Ellis Cup in Paris in 2023?

"I'm not thinking about the next World Cup yet; there's so much more rugby to be played this year and the following years," he said.

"Rugby's a sport where, if you worry too much about the future, you miss what's right in front of you.

"All I'm worried about now is getting back here and getting stuck in with the boys as we have a lot to play for this season. We've got so much to play for in the Premiership and in Europe and when the international periods come around we think about them as well.

"To win a World Cup would be unbelievable, but it is so far in the future that I'm not worrying about that yet at all."

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