Saracens wing Chris Ashton has shrugged off “unfair, unjustified” criticism to hit top form demanding an England recall, according to team-mate Kelly Brown.
Ashton has been left out in the international cold in 2014, his last appearance coming in England’s 30-22 New Zealand defeat at Twickenham in November.
The 27-year-old set a new one-season try-scoring record in the Heineken Cup as Saracens dispatched Clermont 46-6 on Saturday to book their place in next month’s final.
Scotland flanker Brown admitted he thought Ashton was little more than a finisher when he arrived at Saracens from Northampton in 2012.
Following two seasons of close-quarters work with the ex-Wigan Warrior, Brown rates Ashton as an asset England cannot afford to ignore.
“It’s up to the coaches of course but I think he’s an incredible player,” said Brown.
“When he first signed for Saracens I thought he was a good player, I thought ‘he gets on the end of things’.
“But I didn’t actually understand the work he does off the ball until I’d played with him.
“He pops up all over the place, his work-rate’s incredible; he’s unbelievably fit, his defence is pretty good and improving all the time.
“He chases kicks all day and he scores tries, so it’s brilliant to be playing in the same side as him.
“And I’m sure if he keeps it up he’ll be back in the England side soon.
“From my experience he’s a very, very good player, and I wasn’t aware quite how good he is until I’d played with him.
“I just think he brings something a little bit different.
“I know there’s been talk of England wanting something a bit different on the wing but I think he’s the only player in England who plays the way he does.
“He follows things: he gets on the end of breaks, and in terms of stopping him, that’s very difficult.”
Ashton ploughed through England’s 2013 RBS 6 Nations campaign clearly short of form and battling to regain full confidence.
Scotland skipper Brown believes Ashton copped far too much flak, but hailed his determination in shaking off his detractors.
England head coach Stuart Lancaster has tilted his wing selections in a different direction since dispensing with Ashton’s services, with Jonny May and Jack Nowell to the fore in the 2014 Six Nations.
Marland Yarde is widely regarded as England’s premier wing, but has been hampered by injury this term, as has Wasps flyer Christian Wade.
Brown still believes fellow Saracen Ashton can state a compelling case to England coach Lancaster and force his way into the World Cup 2015 squad.
“It’s been a test for him, because he has obviously taken a bit of criticism,” said Brown. “Quite a lot of that is unfair and unjustified, but that’s the challenge as a rugby player.
“Ultimately what’s said about you doesn’t matter: it’s about making sure you keep on working hard, and striving to improve.
“And that’s exactly what he does, he works hard every single week.
“On the first training day of every week he comes in and does a fitness session first thing in the morning, and that’s something he doesn’t need to do, but he’s just striving to keep on improving and to keep getting better.
“I’m sure if he keeps going he can get back into that England mix.”
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