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Slade aims to emulate Wilko

Henry Slade has been mimicking "role model" Jonny Wilkinson for more than a decade, but offered his finest impression yet at Twickenham.

The 21-year-old's defensive grit yielded nine stitches and a handsome shiner as the England XV lost out 39-29 to the Barbarians on Sunday.

Exeter Chiefs fly-half Slade lined up against former All Blacks centre Rene Ranger, came off second best and had to leave the field for temporary stitches.

The unfazed playmaker returned, felled Ranger in a seismic challenge, and marked his senior England debut with a try and 16-point haul.

Slade banged his head celebrating Wilkinson's World Cup-winning drop-goal in 2003 at Ivybridge Rugby Club as a 10-year-old and has copied his hero ever since.

The collateral damage to Slade's left eye and cheekbone suffered against the Barbarians offered a stark underscore to his progress in following Wilkinson's unflinching defensive suit.

"When Jonny kicked that drop-goal I was sat underneath at table at Ivybridge rugby club, and I jumped up and smacked my head on it when he scored," said Slade.

"He's been a massive role model both on and off the pitch too, the way he went about himself and was committed and dedicated to trying to be the best.

"I think that's one thing that a lot of young 10s or young players really took a lot from.

"I have and I'm sure a lot of boys have tried to emulate what he did.

"Defence is so important at fly-half because you're in the middle of the line, and that's something certainly Jonny has shown.

"It's important to be strong there, hopefully I did that at the weekend, that's what I was trying to do: I do enjoy defending to be fair.

"I had nine stitches after the game, they patched me up in the middle of the match and then had to give me a few more afterwards.

"They made a break down the outside, I tackled Rene Ranger, and either a knee or one of his boots hit me in the eye, and that was it really.

"I was just trying to get in the way of him and get him down for the second one, and luckily it worked.

"It was just great to be back on the field and to be able to get on with it.

"I was delighted to be given the vice-captain role, but the fly-half has to be a leader anyway and talk a lot.

"Right from the start we showed our intent with the running rugby, it could have gone either way but at the end maybe a bit of experience told.

"I was pleased with how it went overall, the result aside of course.

"We showed a lot of composure, they had a massive amount of experience, but I think we were in it for the whole game."

Slade lined up against Wilkinson when Toulon edged out Exeter 14-9 at Sandy Park in Heineken Cup action in December.

The former Plymouth College student resisted the temptation to ask for Wilkinson's shirt, but did grab a picture for the scrapbook.

Admitting being boosted by Wilkinson's words of support, Slade said England's faith in young talent offers encouragement for his future.

Team-mates Jack Nowell and Luke Cowan-Dickie have received senior England recognition, and Slade expects more Chiefs stars to follow in their footsteps.

"I had a quick chat with Jonny in the changing rooms after the game at Sandy Park, I took a quick selfie with him - that made my day," he said.

"I was over the moon to be able to have a few words with him.

"We just chatted about the match, he said he enjoyed the way we attack the game down in Exeter.

"Obviously we were talking about the wind because it's pretty windy down there as he had a slightly off day with the boot.

"He was really positive and wished me well for the future, and that was great.

"I didn't swap shirts with him, I would have loved to but I didn't!

"The way Stuart Lancaster likes to attack with the Test team, that's feeding through all the levels.

"It's similar to how we play at Exeter as well, which helps, but I've felt I've learned a huge amount being involved with England these last two weeks, it's been a great experience."

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