Henry Slade: Beyond the field

Thu, 29 Sep 2016 17:38
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IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Jan de Koning spoke to England utility back Henry Slade - an inspiration to diabetics around the world - about his ambitions in rugby and life beyond.

It is not what you would expect from a bunch of rugby bruisers, but English Premiership side Exeter Chiefs has a dog-walking 'club'.

This is one of the interesting anecdotes to the life of the 23-year-old who is just starting out on what could be a very long international career in the game.

Having already given up his studies, Slade has submerged himself into the sport of rugby.

However, he does have plans for when he one day stops playing the game he loves.

A product of Exeter Chiefs Academy, Slade has come through the England age-group ranks - Under-18 (2010), Under-19 (2011) and Under-20 (2012) - before featuring for the England Saxons (the second team at senior international level) in 2014 and for England at the World Cup last year.

Slade made his England debut against France in a World Cup warm-up match in August last year, before making his World Cup debut in the team's final pool game against Uruguay in Manchester.

The gifted young man - who is equally comfortable at No.10, No.12 and No.13 - was also a member of the England squad that whitewashed Australia three-nil in June this year, but for most part remains on the fringes of the matchday selection and will be hoping to add to his two Test caps in the November Tests against South Africa, Fiji, Argentina and Australia.

He will be hoping that having given up on his studies to become a professional player, he will reap more rewards soon.

"Straight from school [Plymouth College] I signed with Exeter," Slade told rugby365, when asked about his decision to ditch his studies after just one year.

"I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, so I picked a Sports Science course and did the first year.

"However, I didn't really enjoy it, so I stopped that."

Slade said he is now looking to get into the property market.

"What I do find interesting is property and property development," he told rugby365, adding: "I have my own house, but I want to get a few more and let that develop [into a business].

"I find that [property development] quite interesting."

While being a professional sportsman leaves very little spare time, especially for players involved at international level, the Exeter Chiefs players have found an uncustomary way of blowing off steam.

"I have a dog called Frank and I walk him a lot," he said of a pet named after 'Frank the Tank' from the movie 'Old School'.

The Cockapoo is a mixed breed dog that is the cross between the Cocker Spaniel breeds and a poodle.

"Quite a few boys have dogs, so we regularly do trips like that," Slade said, adding: "There are some nice places by the river and the park."

Then, once a week, a few of the lads at the club also go out for dinner.

Another little-known fact is that Slade, just after his 18th birthday, was diagnosed with Type One diabetes. He requires regular insulin injections to manage the condition.

Before training and matches his blood sugar levels have to be measured to ensure his body will function properly.

Slade is happy to be a role model for other aspiring young sportsmen and women who are diagnosed with diabetes.

Slade has no other professional sportsman in the family, but there are two younger brothers - 21 and 16 - with Seb playing for an amateur side in Bordeaux in France and the youngest obviously at school.

There is a strong farming background in his family – with mother Jayne's side of the family farming with pigs and sheep and dairy cattle on his surveyor father John's side.

Slade, after his two Tests last year, was unavailable for selection for the 2016 Six Nations through injury.

However, he was part of the tour squad to Australia in June, without getting a run in the three internationals.

Things also did not go his way in the early stages of the new Premiership season - with his club, Exeter Chiefs, struggling in the opening fortnight of the competition.

Last season's beaten finalists, the Chiefs, started with a couple of tough matches - Wasps away (a 20-25 loss) and Saracens at home (a 13-34 defeat).

Not that it will deter him from chasing an England starting spot.

"Being at No.10 and losing the first two [matches] was a bit disappointing," he said.

"I haven't played at No.10 for over a year before that," Slade said, adding: "It was about finding my feet.

"Being back in the midfield again [in rounds three and four] also helps and takes a bit of pressure off."

While some pundits in the United Kingdom have suggested Slade could be in the running for a spot in the 2017 British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand, given his prodigious talent, it is the furthermost thing from his mind.

"My first challenge is repeating what we did with Exeter last year, ensuring we get into the play-off positions," he said about his goals.

"Along the way, there will be some internationals [in November and the Six Nations] and hopefully I do well enough for Exeter Chiefs to force myself into the [England] team.

"I have been in the squad, but never really been in the matchday squad.

"If that happens and all goes well, then I can start thinking about those things [making the B&I Lions tour].

"However, at the moment I can't get too far ahead of myself."

Full name: Henry Slade
Age: 23
Caps: Two
Positions: Flyhalf, centre and fullback
Height: 1.88m
Weight: 92kg
Club: Exeter Chiefs

International Pathway
England Under-18: 2010
England Under-19: 2011
England Under-20: 2012
England Saxons: 2014
England XV: 2015
England: 2015

By Jan de Koning

* This interview was made possible by the Aviva Community Fund. Premiership Rugby and the 12 Aviva Premiership Rugby Clubs are supporting the Aviva Community Fund – a nationwide initiative which offers funding of up to £25,000 to grassroots sports clubs and other community organisations close to your heart. Enter at https://community-fund.aviva.co.uk/