BAGSHOT, England, Nov 9 (Reuters) - As befits a man whose rugby life spans both amateur and professional eras, England coach Eddie Jones is part old-school and part sports-scientist when it comes to selection, but when weighing up Henry Slade it was the numbers he could not ignore.
Slade was always a star in the making as he impressed on his journey through the England age-group sides and it was no surprise when he was called up to the senior team by Stuart Lancaster for a World Cup warm-up against France in 2015.
He did enough to earn a slot in the tournament squad but was overlooked until the final group match against Uruguay with England already knocked out.
A broken leg ruled him out of the first Six Nations championship of Jones’s tenure and, despite a string of impressive displays for Exeter, he remained on the international periphery with only a handful of appearances off the bench.
This year he finally got his chance when England toured Argentina without their British and Irish Lions contingent and Slade started in both wins at outside centre.
With Owen Farrell rested for Saturday, Slade has retained his place to face the Pumas again, albeit at inside centre, and Jones explained that England’s exhaustive monitoring of every aspect of their players helped convince him to keep the Exeter man in the starting team.
“It’s taken him some time. Sometimes those really talented kids don’t understand how you have to work hard to change that talent into consistent performance,” Jones told reporters on Thursday.
“He’s really learned that. He is diligent and his determination to get better has been outstanding. ”For example, one of the most important stats we collect is on high-speed running. Imagine we kick the ball and you have to sprint after it, then the ball goes back over your head and you’ve got to sprint back. He was the lowest in our team 12 months ago. On Tuesday when we trained he was the highest, and that just comes down to effort and application.
“When you are a superstar young player, you tend to do the big things well but you don’t do the small things well because you’ve got other people to do them. So he has learned that he has to do the small things well and he’s done that brilliantly.”
Slade, still only 24, will have George Ford at flyhalf and Jonathan Joseph outside him and though the trio might lack the punch provided by Farrell or Ben Te‘o, they more than make up for it in ability to beat a man and create space.
“He’s got nice feet, good balance, a good head on him, got some speed, courage, everything’s there,” Jones said of Slade, before remembering to keep the centre’s feet on the ground,
“His core skills are reasonable,” Jones added.
Reporting by Mitch Phillips,; Editing by Ed Osmond