Ali Hepher: Exeter Chiefs fly-half battle hotting up

Exeter Chiefs assistant coach Ali Hepher believes the club are accumulating a wealth of talent at fly-half

Exeter Chiefs

With Henry Slade fast making a name for himself, Exeter Chiefs are accumulating a wealth of talent at fly-half and assistant coach Ali Hepher insists it will be up to the players to battle it out.

Slade was given the nod ahead of regular No10 Gareth Steenson last weekend as he made his first Aviva Premiership start against London Wasps.

Both Steenson and Slade are quality players, Sweeney as well. With having that quality in that area it’s going to be tough for them to fight it out

Ali Hepher

The highly-rated 20-year-old kicked three penalties and a conversion during an impressive 80 minutes, although it was not enough to prevent Chiefs from falling to a 19-16 defeat.

Slade, who won the IRB Junior World Championships with England Under-20s in the summer, also shone against Toulon in the Heineken Cup last month with Steenson out injured.

But with Irish-born Steenson currently having scored the second most Aviva Premiership points this season, and Ceri Sweeney also waiting in the wings, Hepher expects all three to raise their game.

“Henry is a hard worker, he is a hell of a talent, any part of his game is strong, but he is still level headed about what he has to improve on,” said Hepher.

“He had another strong game at the weekend to add to those against Toulon.

“He has got a lot of ability to be an outstanding number ten and we are really pleased with the way he is developing.

“The main thing he needs is time in the saddle. But it’s not about making sure we give them all game time, they have to battle it out.

“Both Steenson and Slade are quality players, Sweeney as well. With having that quality in that area it’s going to be tough for them to fight it out.

“We want to win games, we are not just purely focused on developing our guys, we want them to perform .

“Look at the development of Steeno, he has had time in the first team since we came up and has been massive for us.

“It’s down to him putting in the hard work. And that goes for Henry too, they are all have to work extra hard as they have that competition.”

Slade nearly marked his first league start with a try when he crossed the whitewash with nine minutes to go against Wasps.

But the television match official ruled the ball had been held up, leaving Chiefs to suffer their seventh loss in eight in all competitions, including back-to-back Heineken Cup defeats to Toulon.

And while disappointed not to get the rub of the green again with the TMO decision, Hepher believes his side will emerge stronger, despite their recent results.

“We seem to be on the wrong side of the TMO quite a few times,” he added. “We keep saying we will get a bit of luck when it comes to those decisions but it does not seem to be coming. We will keep battling away.

“We had a good run early on in the season and we have just come out of the toughest set of fixtures that the club has ever had.

“It’s fantastic for us, we’re learning a lot through it and we’ll be a better side coming out of it.”

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