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Henry Slade is set to be available for England’s entire Six Nations campaign after Exeter boss Rob Baxter confirmed that he was available for selection in the Champions Cup match away to Montpellier on Sunday.
Slade had previously expressed hesitancy about Covid-19 vaccination. Both France and Italy, whom England travel to in the Six Nations, have brought in stringent rules which would prevent unvaccinated athletes from playing. However, Telegraph Sport understands that Slade is set to be named in Exeter’s matchday squad on Friday lunchtime.
Exeter director of rugby Baxter says that there are no “Novak Djokovic” style medical exemptions at play and indicated that Slade has changed his opinion since telling Telegraph Sport that “I am not going to have a vaccine. I don’t agree with it all” last May.
“I wouldn't tell you that (our team) pre-selection, but he's available, yes,” Baxter said. “Put it this way, if you don't see him picked, it won't be because he's injured, unless he gets injured in training. We haven't got any player, I don't think we've got any player who is actually available, who can't go.
“The truth is, and I know Henry doesn't mind me saying this, Henry never said he wasn't going to get vaccinated. He said at the time he wanted to see what the situation was, and that was months and months ago. That's all I'm prepared to say, he never said he wasn't going to have it, he said he wanted to see what the situation was. Everybody else seems to have surmised what they want from that.”
Slade, who suffers from type-one diabetes, was included in England’s 36-man squad for the Six Nations. Eddie Jones’ team travel to Rome for their second round match on February 13 and to Paris for a potentially momentous edition of ‘Le Crunch’ against France on March 19. Italy has some of the most stringent Covid-19 restrictions in Europe. Any travelling England supporters will require a ‘Super Green Pass’ which entails being fully vaccinated or proof having contracted Covid-19 in the past six months to attend the match at the Stadio Olimpico which will be limited to 50 per cent capacity.
The vaccination rate for England players in the autumn was well over 85 per cent and Exeter, who were thought to have one of the lowest take-up rates in the Premiership, will be unaffected by their trip to France according to Baxter. “It (the French government requirements) has had virtually no effect on us,” Baxter said. “It is not for me to discuss players’ medical status, you will see the team and we have not got any players with medical exemptions so there is no Novak Djokovic situation, that is all I can say. We are pro vaccine and the large, large majority of our players are and we have not got an issue going to France based on our vaccinations.”
Meanwhile Baxter welcomed the news broken by Telegraph Sport that the Premiership final was going to be shown on free-to-air television. Simon Massie-Taylor, Premiership Rugby’s new chief executive, indicated that he wanted to make the final into a Super Bowl style event.
Baxter believes that taking the showpiece event will have a big knock-on effect both for rugby as a sport and individual clubs such as Exeter who have competed in the past six finals.
“Anything that enhances the amount of people who are watching a game is brilliant,” Baxter said. “If it became one of those fixtures yearly where you know the whole rugby family can settle down on a Saturday afternoon and know the Premiership final is on then that’s fantastic.
“Who can say that’s not good for the game? The finals have been some of the best games of the season in the last three or four years. It has got to be a good incentive for the players. When you are playing on terrestrial television and millions of people are watching that ability to be involved in something like is fantastic.”