Exeter Chiefs: Rob Baxter hails Henry Slade's 'breakthrough year'

Henry Slade
Slade has scored a total of 201 points for Exeter this season - only Gareth Steenson has more

Rob Baxter has commended Exeter Chiefs' Henry Slade on a "breakthrough year" after the fly-half won young player of the year at the Rugby Players' Association awards.

The 22-year-old has made as many starts as any other Exeter player this season, scoring seven tries in the process.

The Devon club host Sale in their final regular-season game as they look to seal a first-ever top-four finish.

"It's been a real breakthrough year for him," head coach Baxter told BBC Devon.

"He's had a really good year of maturing into not just a capable but a standout Premiership rugby back."

Slade's season in numbers
Starts: 27
Tries: 7
Conversions: 23
Penalties: 40
Total points: 201

Slade is yet to make his senior England debut but was called up to Stuart Lancaster's squad as cover during this year's Six Nations.

He was part of the England Under-20s side that lifted the World Cup in 2013.

"He's got a lot of skills and ability, and time on his side, and he's very level-headed and grounded," added Baxter.

"This is the first accolade for Henry and I think many will follow."

Chiefs number eight Thomas Waldrom missed out on player of the year, won by Jonathan Joseph, but can break the Premiership's all-time try record for a season this weekend.

The New Zealand-born has scored 16 tries in the league, one short of Dom Chapman's tally set while playing for Richmond.

"I probably take a few more risks than other people but Rob's (Baxter) said he's got my back and I just go out and play," Waldrom told BBC Radio Devon.

"I'm definitely not going to be greedy (against Sale), it's whatever's right for the team. It won't really mean much if we don't get the result."

Thomas Waldrom
Waldrom has already equalled Neil Back's record try haul for a forward in one season (16)

Baxter himself has been nominated for the league's director of rugby award, which he won in 2012.

The other candidates are Northampton's Jim Mallinder, Bath's Mike Ford and Dai Young of Wasps.

"That always makes me giggle a little bit because it sometimes feels like I get nominated, or I win awards, for not getting relegated or not losing too many games," Baxter added.

"Obviously it's still nice, we've had a good season and hit some of the targets we set. I like to think it's a reward for a lot of people."