Ed Slater is having a storming season, reminiscent of the form that won him an England call-up in 2014. Find out more about the Gloucester lock in this illuminating interview
Gloucester’s Ed Slater – a life less ordinary
It’s only Ed Slater’s second season at Gloucester but already he’s part of the Kingsholm furniture. The 30-year-old lock has been at the heart of Gloucester’s up-table drive in the Gallagher Premiership, bringing huge physicality, leadership and set-piece prowess – only Newcastle’s Calum Green has won more Premiership lineouts this season than Slater.
As Gloucester prepare to host Munster in a crunch Heineken Cup pool clash on Friday night, we shed light on Slater’s colourful life that began in the East Midlands in the late Eighties.
This interview was conducted in 2017, shortly before he joined Gloucester from Leicester Tigers, and was published in Rugby World’s May 2017 edition.
I was born in Leicester but grew up in Milton Keynes with two older brothers. Mum (Jo) worked at the hospital on the breast-cancer unit, Dad (Colin) worked in software. My parents split up when I was young.
I didn’t play rugby until I was 16. I was football obsessed. My uncle, who lived in Blackheath, took me to a Charlton game when I was eight. Going through the stand, seeing the big green pitch, was mesmerizing. We played Bolton Wanderers and it was a 4-4 draw!
I went to a local comprehensive school, Denbigh. We played about two rugby games a year and it was a mix and match of random players. The quickest would go on the wing, the fattest would go in the front row, it was that kind of comedy situation.
Football was my thing but at 16 the trail went dead. I wasn’t going to get anywhere with it. Two of my mates said, “You’re a big bloke, come and play rugby.” So I went to Milton Keynes RFC and they had a good colts team. We won a few games against teams like Marlow, Amersham & Chiltern, Beaconsfield. The hardest thing was learning the rules and what I was trying to do around the pitch.
What hooked me was the social side of rugby. Football had a selfish mentality. Even with kids it’s about possessions: what boots you have, who your mates are, which club you play for. Rugby was more inclusive. I went on a tour to Eindhoven and thought ‘this is it’. With rugby we were all in it together. And I loved that, it was brilliant.
I went to Australia on a gap year. I came out of school with poor grades and was in some dead-end jobs. So my mate Joe Gorman and I saved up and went to Sydney. I joined Eastern Suburbs and that was the biggest progression in my rugby career.
I got jobs through the rugby club. I worked in a car and van rental centre. Then I did cleaning, a 5am start at Randwick hospital. Eventually, I worked for a tree removal company and at a pizza shop in the evenings.
I played with Pete Betham for NSW Watarahs A. I played with quite a few guys who ended up making it. Pete [a then Tigers team-mate now at Clermont], Scott Sio, Paddy Ryan, Chris Alcock, Greg Petersen. It wasn’t a bad side.
Mike Penistone, a coach at Easts, recommended me to Leicester. It was difficult. I had a long-term Australian girlfriend, I’d set my life up over there in terms of a friendship group and the direction I was heading. But I was English. I knew all about Leicester Tigers and felt it wasn’t an opportunity that would come round again. So I had to do it.
Mike has been the biggest coaching influence on my career. I still speak to him a lot today, he’s still my mentor. He’s got a great understanding of the wider picture: how people operate, the kind of personality needed in certain environments, the mental side of the game.
I might have become a sports journalist. I started a journalism degree at Lincoln University (2007) but only did a term because Easts wanted me to go back out. Then, in Sydney, I did a communications degree at Notre Dame University but after a year and a half quit that to come back to Tigers.
I used to write rugby reports for the local paper in Milton Keynes. And I built and ran a website called ‘MK Charlton’, which was the MK arm of a Charlton supporters’ group. I wrote match reports on Charlton.
I know Greg Rutherford from our schooldays. We played in the same football team at Two Mile Ash (middle school), and he was in the year above at Denbigh and big mates with my brother. His brother Rob was a brilliant rugby player. Greg [2012 Olympic long jump champion] was always ridiculously quick and had trials with pro football clubs.
Greg mentioned me in his autobiography. We were in a business studies lesson and the teacher said, “Tell us what your future plans are.” Greg said, “I’m going to go to the Beijing Olympics” and we all p***ed ourselves. I was ribbing him for it, so in his book he wrote, “Yeah, I remember Ed Slater saying, “Yeah, of course you’re going to go…”
I’m an ambassador for The Bridge at Leicester. They’re a great charity who provide food and shelter for homeless people, as well as counselling and job advice. I’ve helped with their annual dinner and worked in the soup kitchen.
My career highlight is winning the Premiership with Leicester in 2013. I’d been in two grand finals and lost. We played Northampton in 2013 and Dylan Hartley got sent off. They put up a good fight but we played the last ten minutes knowing we had won.
Captaining England against the Crusaders in 2014 is up there. But it’s also a painful memory because I did my ACL in that game, so it was the day my England career faltered.
It took me two years to get in the right place mentally. I was naïve to think that I’d come back from a serious knee injury and get straight back into the form I was in on that England tour. I got another knee injury after that and was chasing my tail. I just couldn’t get a feel for it on the pitch.
Having those injuries taught me how to look after myself. The importance of stretching and recovery, particularly as you get older, is huge and I’m not sure that’s drummed into young players all the time or they take that advice on board. I was lucky to learn off Brad Thorn – he was a big influence.
I like to think there will always be an opportunity with England. There’s obviously a lot of competition nationally in my position. I know from the short time I’ve spent with Eddie Jones that if he wants what you’re offering he will pick you. If you’re not offering that, he won’t. I like things black and white and that’s pretty black and white. At the moment, if I’m not getting picked, it’s because other people are doing their job.
My favourite holiday destination is Santorini. It’s a Greek island and you get around on quad bikes. Fantastic food, great beaches, very laidback. I love it.
The held-up maul law should change. If there’s any sort of forward momentum, the ball should go back to the team that originally had it. It’s a bit of a cheap turnover and doesn’t encourage big tackles. You want the game to flow freely but instead the existing law encourages slow ball.
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