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Henry Slade was happy to get on with hero Jonny Wilkinson

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 10, 2013

By Mike Baker

Exeter Chiefs fly-half Henry Slade takes on his opposite number Jonny Wilkinson in the Heineken Cup match at Sandy Park. Picture: Dan Mullan/Pinnacle

Exeter Chiefs fly-half Henry Slade takes on his opposite number Jonny Wilkinson in the Heineken Cup match at Sandy Park. Picture: Dan Mullan/Pinnacle

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Given the result against Toulon in the Heineken Cup match last Saturday, you might think Exeter Chiefs fly-half Henry Slade would agree with the old adage about never meeting your heroes.

But, despite being closer to Jonny Wilkinson than most inside Sandy Park as his opposite number pulled the strings in a 14-9 victory which saw the French side assume control of Pool Two, Slade would not have swapped places with anyone.

The 20-year-old had already done just that in the 20th minute, coming on for starting ten Gareth Steenson, who, quite understandably, could not shake off the effects of an earlier crunching hit from Toulon centre Mathieu Basteraud.

If he had not been quite ready for his introduction, Slade hid it well, hitting his stride instantly and producing the sort of attacking, dynamic display which characterised the early career of a certain other left-footed fly-half.

"It was awesome to play against him [Wilkinson]," said Slade. "I've watched him for so many years, and being on the bench I didn't know when I was going to get on.

"I wasn't expecting to come on quite that early. It was a nice to get that much game-time, especially against a side like Toulon, in a situation like that. It doesn't really get much better.

"To get so long on the field and to play against a childhood hero, it was great. He had a bit of a tough game with the boot, but I'm sure it was just a one-off."

Wilkinson did indeed endure an uncharacteristically poor day from the tee, missing three shots at goal as Chiefs clung to a 9-8 lead under increasing Toulon pressure in the second half. When it eventually told, it was Australian Matt Giteau who kicked the decisive penalty, before Wilkinson slotted a drop-goal with five minutes left.

That was still enough time for Chiefs to mount one final, desperate assault on the Toulon line, but it ended as had many others before it, squashed by a solid, obstinate French defence.

Slade admitted it brought a disappointing end to the chance for a famous win, but will take a lot from the experience. He said: "It was frustrating, especially with going into half-time with the lead, we thought we had such a lot to give in the second half.

"We had ball but we couldn't do what we wanted with it. A lot of the game was played in our half, which is where the pressure finally told.

"At the end there, we might have just nicked it, but just didn't quite get there.

"It was a massive game which we'd been looking forward to for a long time. I think you saw it at the end there with the energy levels – the boys were out on their feet. It felt like it was so close, but we just couldn't quite get there."

And now they have to do it all again, with a trip to Stade Mayol this Saturday in the return match. It is not far short of a must-win game, if Chiefs are to have any chance of reaching the quarter-finals.

"I think we should be confident," Slade added. "We only got the one point here and obviously it's going to be a bit harder down there, but if we can get the win then we're back on track.

"Situations like this you learn from, and hopefully get better from. I'm sure all the boys would say that we'll take a lot from it and move on."

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