When Chris Ashton came flying onto the International scene in 2010 there would have been many Rugby Union fans that would have known little about him after switching codes in 2007.
In 2008 he showed he was destined for greatness when he scored a record breaking 39 tries in 25 matches in National League One for Northampton Saints. Having been promoted to the Premiership that year Ashton continued to show his world class finishing ability which culminated in 15 tries in 16 games in the 2009/2010 season.
This led to him being selected for England’s tour of Australia and New Zealand in the summer of 2010. Ashton was a huge factor in England beating Australia away from home for the first time since that fateful night in 2003. His fantastic jinking try was only to be outdone by his try at Twickenham later that year, again against Australia. His second of two tries will long be remembered as one of the greatest tries scored at Twickenham and firmly announced Ashton as one of the best finishers on the planet.
By the time the 2011 6 Nations came around the buzz about Ashton was deafening and he certainly lived up to the hype. He scored 6 tries in the opening 2 matches and had already levelled with Will Greenwood and Shane Williams for the all time record in a 6 Nations competition. He failed to take sole ownership of the record but his mark had never the less been made.
He then equalled this try scoring tally later that year at the 2011 World Cup where he once again finished joint top try scorer alongside Vincent Clerc who had played two more games than Ashton.
This all makes for perfect reading so where did everything go so badly wrong for Chris Ashton? I have repeatedly defended him and put it down to the way England and Saracens decide to play but after the weekend I was left with no more excuses. Put brutally, the player that took the world by storm in 2010 no longer exists. At best he was the most devastating line runner in World Rugby. At worst you would be forgiven for thinking he was tackling the skittles man from the adverts, the way he falls off tackles.
One of the biggest impacts it seems was leaving Saints for Saracens. Last year Sarries were all about defence and making it extremely difficult for opposition. The irony is defence has been Ashton’s biggest downfall since leaving Saints.
A key factor and constant I can find in his performances is his relationship with Ben Foden. They linked up superbly at Northampton and Ashton consistently capitalised on Foden’s line breaks. Both players joined the England ranks at roughly the same time and interestingly Ashton’s demise has coincided with Foden’s absence from the England side as well as leaving Saints. This may be seen as coincidence but I believe their relationship is far more effective than Ashton’s with Sarries and England team mate Alex Goode.
Somewhere along the journey Ashton has picked up this reputation as being arrogant and big headed but I don’t buy too much into that. It’s easy to mistake confidence for arrogance. His swan dive has certainly got its critics but it’s similar to celebrating a goal in football. When you’re in the moment these things happen.
If I’m being brutally honest the biggest dive taking place at the moment is Chris Ashton’s International career. It has been made public that Christian Wade and Marland Yarde would most likely of started against Argentina if fit which meant Chris Ashton needed a big performance. Despite scoring a try he once again had a poor game and memorably butchered a relatively simple finish that would have been bread and butter for the 2010 Chris Ashton. By the time he did manage to score his try I think there were many England fans that had wished the decision had gone to TMO as it eventually looked like he failed to touch down before sliding out of touch.
Had that gone to TMO that would have almost certainly spelt the end of Chris Ashton’s fading England career. As it stands though, we have to suffer yet another match of frustration as Ashton gets yet another last chance to redeem himself.