AND head coach Stuart Lancaster has dropped a sizeable hint that Exeter Chiefs’ fly-half Henry Slade is likely to feature heavily on his World Cup radar.
The uncapped 21-year-old has been included in England’s 35-man training squad for Saturday’s Six Nations clash with Scotland at Twickenham after Saracens centre Brad Barritt was ruled out of the remainder of the championship with an ankle injury.
Slade did his international credentials no harm with a starring role as England Saxons beat Irish Wolfhounds 18-9 in Cork in late January, a performance which included a try and eight points with the boot.
He will provide midfield cover for the Calcutta Cup having featured at inside and outside centre this term for Exeter, a level of versatility that could prove pivotal when Lancaster finalises his World Cup plans.
“The remainder of the Six Nations is the short-term but the World Cup camp, I’d say he’d definitely be in it,” said Lancaster. “In the World Cup squad of 31, you need flexibility. When you’re picking backline options, you need three nines, two 10s, four centres and five in the back three.
“Some versatility is crucial, left and right-footed kicking options are too. Sladey is a left-footer and can kick goals as well.
“The Six Nations programme finishes in less than two weeks but the World Cup camp starts on 21 June. We have until the end of August to decide. Someone like him will be there or thereabouts.”
England’s pack has potential to be shuffled ahead of the showdown with Scotland after Courtney Lawes, Geoff Parling and Tom Wood completed successive club matches at the weekend following injury.
Flanker Tom Croft, like Barritt, has been sidelined for the rest of the tournament after dislocating his shoulder playing for Leicester on Sunday, although Lancaster still has a selection conundrum to solve.
“You can’t cover all your bases with your bench but we have Nick Easter there with James Haskell and Tom Wood, who can also cover No8 if necessary,” added Lancaster.
“Billy [Vunipola] has demonstrated over the past few games that he has developed his conditioning to the point I have trusted him to play the full 80 for three games on the bounce. The other dynamic to consider is our line-out. Tom Croft was a great option, Tom Wood can do that and there is Courtney Lawes and Geoff Parling coming back into the equation.”