Henry Slade says move to outside-centre was 'a bit of a shock'
"I had grown up being a 10... so it was a bit of a shock"
Last Updated: 27/05/20 7:03pm
Henry Slade's road to becoming an international centre has been a long but successful one, but it was not necessarily always part of the plan.
The Plymouth native came through the ranks as a fly-half, famously steering England to the U20 World Championship in 2013.
It was not until he made his breakthrough at Exeter until he found himself in the midfield.
At 21, he was informed by Chiefs coach Ali Hepher that he was being trialled at 13 in a pre-season match.
"All our centres apart from Sam Hill was injured," he recalled, speaking to Will Greenwood's Podcast.
"We had seven or eight centres, and everyone was injured. Our last pre-season game [was] against Worcester. The team came through on a Monday night and it had, '12. Hill, 13. Slade'.
"I'd never played 13 in my life! I'd no idea what was going on. I'd played 12 a couple of times, but I had grown up being a 10.
"So it was a bit of a shock.
"I said I'd try it. That weekend it went pretty well.
"And then I started the season the next week playing 13, and I didn't look back."
Fast-forward five years and Slade was well-established in the 13 shirt, so much so that he was drafted into the starting England side for a World Cup quarter-final, despite a lack of game-time.
"At the start of each week, you get put into teams for training, but that sometimes can have a correlation to what the team is at the weekend, it sometimes can't. So you can't really read into that," he explained, looking back on the lead-up to the victory over the Wallabies.
"That was a bit of a shock. I didn't think at all that I was going to start that quarter-final, because I'd missed all the previous warm-up games for the World Cup with my knee. We got out to the World Cup, I hurt it again in the first game against Tonga. I didn't play the USA game. I played the Argentina game, for 10 minutes off the bench.
"Then the France game got cancelled, and I was thinking 'that's my chances of starting a game at this World Cup gone, I've only played 20 minutes'.
"All of a sudden, we were playing against Australia in a quarter-final and I was starting at 13!
"The boys had been going really well, so I didn't expect anything."
One man's opportunity was a setback for another however, as George Ford dropped to the bench with Owen Farrell and Manu Tuilagi both pushing in one position each.
But despite the fierce in-house competition for places, there was no ill-will between any of the players.
"We sat down before the World Cup and said 'we'll do everything we can to win the World Cup. If that means you're starting, on the bench, not involved, everyone's got a role to play'," Slade explained.
"We'd much rather be sitting at the end of the World Cup, I would have been... playing 10 minutes in the World Cup and having a World Cup winners' medal, than starting every game up to the final and losing.
"[Ford] came over and said well done. I said 'sorry mate, we all know we're in the same team, going towards the same thing'. The same thing happened the next week, and there was no hard feelings from me at all."
Listen to the latest episode of Will Greenwood's Podcast, where Slade discusses impending fatherhood, the 2019 World Cup and more!