The time has now come for England to select Henry Slade as their crunch match with the Wallabies approaches this weekend.
The Exeter Chiefs man was named in England’s 31-man World Cup squad, but has yet to feature in either of his sides two games to date. This, despite an injury to Jonathan Joseph before the game against Wales, and his impressive performance during England’s first warm up game against France.
The reality is that Slade is everything this England side have been crying out for, yet for some reason the coaching team continue to ignore him. Now obviously they see much more of him behind closed doors that we do, but if they are going to select him in the squad, then they need to have the confidence that he can step into the starting XV at any time.
Given the potentially devastating back three of Mike Brown, Anthony Watson and Jonny May, a distributor like Slade is exactly what the side needs, especially if Owen Farrell is being selected at fly half and Brad Barritt is playing at inside centre.
There would even be an argument for starting Slade over Joseph right now such is the complementary skillset he brings to the England backline. He showed on more than one occasion against France that he was capable of making the right decision under pressure whilst more than holding his own in defence.
That ability to get the ball into the hands of players like Anthony Watson could prove absolutely critical given what he is capable of doing on a rugby pitch. Given what happened the single time England did get the ball out wide against Wales (Jonny May’s try), you have to wonder how different things could have been had Slade been selected over Burgess.
This is also ignoring the fact that he is a more than competent kicker of the ball giving England an extra option when under pressure. He has also shown he isn’t afraid of putting his head where it hurts after a series of impressive performances against a rampaging Rene Ranger last year when turning out for England against the Barbarians.
The reality is that if England are going to make it out of their pool, never mind progress through the knockout rounds, then they need to play to their strengths. Given the sketchy form of the pack of late it looks like the back three could be this side’s biggest asset, it is therefore of the utmost important to ensure they get their hands on the ball.
If England go out simply to stop the Wallabies in the same way they tried to shut down Wales then they may as well kiss their World Cup dream goodbye now. Instead they need to take a calculated gamble and put Slade in alongside Barritt and Farrell. This will keep things tight, ensure penalties are kicked and provide the opportunity for the back three to run with the ball.