England playmaker opens up on the ‘struggle’ of missing out on the Rugby World Cup

Colin Newboult
Centre Henry Slade in action for England in 2023.

Centre Henry Slade in action for England in 2023.

England centre Henry Slade conceded that he found it difficult to watch his team-mates play at the Rugby World Cup after being omitted from the squad.

The Exeter Chiefs star was one of the big-name omissions from the 33-man group that went to France for the global tournament.

Joe Marchant was the preferred selection at 13 for the World Cup, while Manu Tuilagi and Ollie Lawrence, who both generally featured at inside centre, provided cover in that slot.

Owen Farrell was the playmaking option at centre, but the captain was mostly at fly-half during the competition as head coach Steve Borthwick opted for power and pace over creativity in midfield.

Lingering disappointment

“It was very tough to watch the games. I’m great mates with a lot of the boys and I obviously wanted them to do well but I did struggle. People did come up to me and ask why I wasn’t in the squad,” Slade told the Mail on Sunday.

“It was nice to hear people say I should have gone but ultimately it’s not down to their opinion. I had to come back to Exeter and not dwell on it.”

England ended up with a bronze medal from their excursions at the World Cup, with just a narrow 16-15 defeat to the Springboks stopping them from getting a shot at the main prize.

Borthwick found a settled midfield combination in the shape of Tuilagi and Marchant, with Lawrence the bench option, which ultimately left Slade out in the cold.

The 30-year-old was not far away from getting into the 33, but England’s head honcho wanted more options in the back three.

“It was the morning after the first warm-up game and Steve Borthwick told me he needed more cover on the wing,” he said. “I can play a lot of positions, but not wing!

“There was nothing I could do about it. I did everything I could in the summer but it wasn’t meant to be.

“There were a lot of feelings, disappointment and probably some anger. You work your entire career for opportunities like that and I feel like I’m in my prime.

“I was massively gutted to have that taken away, obviously.

“But we’re in a team sport. It’s opinion driven. I guess I’ve been on the right side of the opinion for most of my career. Sometimes it goes the other way and you have to take the hand you’re dealt.”

England and Exeter future

Slade has not given up hope on featuring for England, however, and is looking to force his way back in by impressing for Exeter in the Premiership.

“As an athlete you’re always looking for something extra to motivate you. Playing for England again is definitely one of them. If that chance comes again then it would be amazing,” he said.

There is also a question over Slade’s Exeter future. The playmaker admits that he would like to stay rather than move abroad, which would keep him available for England duty.

“I’m in the final year of my Exeter contract,” he added.

“I’ve got no intention of doing anything else. We’ll sit down and speak about that stuff. If I put myself in the conversation, hopefully I’ll get another shot at England.

“I think everyone always has a thought about that (moving abroad). But I’ve spent my whole career at Exeter. I’m very happy here with my family. I guess if they pay me enough, I’ll stay!”

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