Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby

Baxter sings Slade's praises

Exeter boss Rob Baxter hailed the quality of England World Cup hopeful Henry Slade after his team went top of the Aviva Premiership with a 25-22 victory over Gloucester at Kingsholm.

The 21-year-old centre kicked two long-range penalties and proved a consistent handful for Gloucester's defence through his running and distribution skills.

"There is no secret with Henry," Baxter said.

"He is a good rugby player. We could probably pick him anywhere across the back-line and he would do a great job for us.

"He is looking more and more comfortable. His best attribute is that he is tough mentally and physically - he likes getting stuck in and he is very competitive.

"He just wants to be out on the pitch playing, and that is what is going to drive him all the way if he chooses to.

"If he stays grounded and works as hard as he is working now, it is going to be up to us to help him be the best player he can be. If we do that, I am sure he will be very successful."

Slade appears to be a strong candidate to make England head coach Stuart Lancaster's elite player squad next month ahead of the autumn Tests, and Exeter are certainly benefiting from his all-round excellence.

Fly-half Gareth Steenson landed four penalties and converted flanker Ben White's first-half try as Exeter triumphed to make it two wins out of three this term and climb one point above unbeaten trio Saracens, Bath and Leicester.

Gloucester dominated early on through tries from wing Jonny May and prop Dan Murphy, but they handed Steenson and Slade regular opportunities to punish them, which they gratefully accepted.

The cherry and whites have so far leaked an average of 35 points and four tries per game during new rugby director David Humphreys' reign, and although it is early days for a new-look squad, a losing bonus point secured by flanker Sione Kalamafoni's touchdown will provide scant consolation.

Half-backs Greig Laidlaw and James Hook each added a conversion, while Hook slotted a late penalty, yet Exeter kept their composure as the clock ticked down, following up a landslide opening weekend win at London Welsh with another away victory after they went from 12-3 behind to 25-12 ahead.

"It felt like the momentum was going a little bit at the end, but in some ways it was a nice test for us to fight for it, and we regained the momentum in the last few minutes," Baxter added.

"It is another great lesson for us. If you work that hard to get that kind of commanding lead, you can make it a lot easier for yourselves than we did today.

"Some of it is decision-making, some of it is a little bit of composure. We are really comfortable with how we can make ourselves a good attacking side, a good defensive side and play with fluidity. What we've got to work at is how we see teams off."

Humphreys, meanwhile, highlighted Gloucester's poor discipline as the major reason for the defeat.

"It is disappointing," he said.

"We started the game very well, then the second part of the first-half we lost control because we didn't get our set-piece to function and the penalty count went against us.

"At this level, to concede that many penalties in our own half to a kicker of Gareth Steenson's quality, we are making a rod for our own back.

"The reason we lost the game was because of our own indiscipline.

"We looked dangerous in attack, but in games that tight at this level, it is the small things, and we didn't have accuracy around the set-piece."

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph