England’s Ashton alternatives

ashton

Another weekend in the Six Nations has passed, and England currently sit at the top of the table. They have three wins from three games and whispers of ‘Grand Slam’ have progressively become louder. It is perhaps therefore surprising that clamours for a certain player to be dropped have also been getting louder, despite the old adage of ‘never changing a winning team’.

Head coach Stuart Lancaster took the England job (officially) back in March of last year, despite not having the experience or reputation that many others linked with the vacancy had in abundance. His policy of picking players based on their form, and not their reputation, which coincidentally the RFU also displayed in his hiring, won plaudits from both the fans and the media.

There have been few, if any, complaints about the way Lancaster has led this developing England team over the last year, but the continued selection of Saracens winger Chris Ashton, despite fairly ineffective performances for England in recent games, has begun to raise questions. An in-form Ashton is a truly daunting prospect. He runs some of the best lines in the Northern Hemisphere, and his instincts often bring him off of the wing and into play earlier, usually to devastating effect. His defence is also solid, and he certainly competes with the likes of Tommy Bowe and George North for the mantle of the best winger in the Northern Hemisphere.

Unfortunately, we haven’t seen this side of Ashton in some time, and instead we’ve seen him playing tentatively defensively and rarely venturing from his spot on the wing where, in the Northern Hemisphere, it can be easy to become excluded from the game.

Indeed, it seems as if Lancaster’s patience has also been tested by Ashton’s recent form, with the England coach suggesting that he may drop Ashton for the upcoming against Italy, citing that “there are areas of his game he’s got to work on.” This then raises the inevitable question, who can step in and perform for England?
The long-term future of the position seems to certainly lie in the hands of Christian Wade and Jonny May. Both players have electric pace, making them devastating in open space, but more importantly their ability to change pace and direction seemingly instantly allows them to create space for themselves. In this respect, both players are reminiscent of a developing Jason Robinson. They are, however, still developing themselves, and despite their defensive skills improving greatly this season, they could still be exposed defensively by the physically imposing Welsh pairing of Alex Cuthbert and North.

Similarly, Marland Yarde of London Irish, who enjoyed a very good game against London Wasps at the weekend, is an extremely exciting attacking talent but is not in any of the England squads, making a call-up in the near future fairly improbable. Charlie Sharples, Tom Biggs and David Strettle are other names which have been mooted as a solution, and all three certainly display a flair for attacking rugby. They are also solid in defence and would certainly not be considered defensive liabilities at the international level, but with that being said, an international winger should be able to both attack and defend exceptionally.

There are two names, then, that are ready to make a claim for Ashton’s spot: Tom Varndell and Ugo Monye. Outside of an in-form Ashton, these two are arguably the most complete English wingers currently playing, especially when you consider Mike Brown is still developing into the position at the international level. Varndell is currently in the form of his life, leading the Premiership in tries, with 11 to his name, and his physicality in defence is rarely questioned (although is technique can be slightly suspect). Similarly, Monye is a very solid in defence, not to mention his unparalleled skill under the high ball, and has all the physical and mental skills to excel offensively.

It is doubtful Lancaster will want to make too many changes to his winning team, but it looks as though there is a chance Ashton could find himself on the bench, or dropped from the squad entirely, when England welcome Italy to Twickenham. With Varndell not included in the EPS (Senior or Saxons) his call-up would certainly be a surprise, and providing Lancaster doesn’t move Manu Tuilagi out to the wing, which he has suggested is a possibility, the door is certainly open for Monye to stake a claim for a shirt he has consistently flirted with throughout his career.

by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)

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53 comments on “England’s Ashton alternatives

  1. First of all the best winger in the Northern hemisphere is Alex Cuthbert, Tommy Bowe can’t even stay fit let alone compete for that mantle.

    Secondly the only alternative to Ashton is Christian Wade, he’s the best finisher not playing international rugby. Not entirely sure about Brown “growing” into the role, looked pretty lost on Saturday. Regardless of who plays on the wing England need better distributors in midfield than Barritt & Manu if they are to harness the attacking skills of the back 3.

  2. Alex Cuthbert isn’t close to being the best winger in the NH. I’m not even going to start a list of players better than him as I’ll be here all day.

    As for Ashton – drop him for Italy, blood a youngster, and give Ashton a challenge to prove his selection for Wales.

    • 15 starts – 7 tries, who’s had a better start in the Northern hemisphere ? & why drop Ashton in a game that’s made for him to bag a hat full and regain his confidence ?

  3. An interesting post and discussion, but all a little pointless for the next two games, as Lancaster has to pick from players in the EPS. This means that currently it’s Strettle. But Strettle has been playing on the opposite wing lately (I believe at the request of England), to bed him into that position in case England wanted to select him for Six Nations duty.

    That said I would love to see Wade start for the Italy game, and have Strettle on the opposite wing with Brown at full back.

    I also think Ashton would be better if Brown was played at full back as he’s a more direct runner than Goode, and Ashton could pick lines off him like he does with Foden.

    Could we see a mix of Strettle, Ashton and Brown start for Italy?

  4. Andrew Richardson February 27, 2013 at 2:12 pm -

    Wade, varndell, for me, and I agree Ashton is not performing. The lazy missed tackle against Fofana was proof of that.

    In a wishful perfect (English rugby world) North and Bowe would be English along with Visser, Cuthbert and DTH. If this was the case would Ashton get a look in?

  5. I honestly thought there were glimpses of the Ashton of old on Saturday.

    He ran some good lines, and there were a couple of occasions where he backed himself on the outside against the French backs.

    It has taken a few games at test level to do this and as a result, I think taking him out of the test squad now, particularly with Italy next on the radar, this could backfire.

    Personally, if I were to play around with positions, (assuming Farrells injury keeps him out) I’d put Goode on the bench, at FB put in Brown and have another winger.

  6. I really think the criticism of Ashton is being typically over-hyped by the English media. He won’t get dropped! He is our best finished, and he has a great try scoring record.

    Obviously he has been less effective in the past two matches but he is a class act. The best thing for the back three is to put Brown at full back, and Foden on the wing. This will mean that Ashton has some broken field runners to play off. I see the value of Goode; but he is not a strike runner. In terms of positioning Goode is great, but all he does is kick the ball back to the opposition or get tackled by the first defender. Ashton’s brilliance is playing off of someones shoulder, how is he expected to do that is there is no one counter attacking or making breaks?

  7. I think the other thing that Lancaster has to think about is the defence. Are any of the other wingers any better defensively than Ashton? Wade is improving, there’s no doubt about that. But at this level would he be any better in retreat, probably not.
    England have gone from having no left wingers to an abundance of them. Strettle, Monye, May, Yarde, Varndell, Thompstone etc all ply their trade on the left, whilst on right we have Ashton, Wade and Sharples in the mix.

    • Dazza, I think that Strettle would consider himself to be a right-wing, even if he is currently on the opposite side.

      IF, Goode is to be jettisoned, I would much rather see Foden at FB and Brown “left” on the Left. I think he does a very good job there, and despite some perceptions (for one dodgy punt I think) he has been strong throughout the 6N.

      With the exception of big Jonah, wings tend to be very restricted in how they can affect a game, if the team isn’t playing to their strengths.

      I am interested in some comments that suggest Goode’s style is not suiting Ashton. There may be some truth in this, and I do wonder if he is regretting his switch to Sarries.

      • The difference at Sarries for Ashton is Tomkins. He has become the playmaker in the midfield, which with Barritt and Tuilagi England don’t really have. Also when Goode comes into the midfield you often find Ashton is nearer the play. Goode hasn’t really done that for England except in that one game, where he made a big difference.

        So going forward for Ashton (and England) a more creative midfield combo would be more beneficial. Barritt and Tuilagi work well, but the ball doesn’t really get past them as neither are that creative. Tuilagi will always make a whole, but he does tend to hog the ball a little after the fact. Someone like Tomkins or Trinder could be a better option at 13 with Tuilagi moving to 12.

  8. One name I noticed you didn’t mention is that of Adam Thompstone (glad Dazza mentioned him as I haven’t seen him mentioned anywhere else) – he seems to be doing fairly well at Leicester and has a bit more bulk than any of the other options. And Kyle Eastmond coming through at Bath too.
    For me – the biggest mistake England are making at the moment is picking Goode. I agree with Jacob – he positions himself well but runs sideways, picks the wrong option in his attack be that passing to the wrong man, running in the wrong direction or kicking aimlessly downfield – oh and he never catches high balls either but then not sure ANYONE in the side did on saturday!
    Perhaps Ashton needs the Italy game for some more confidence and as pointed out by Dazza – he can only pick from the EPS so it’s got to be Strettle if not Ashton.
    I wouldn’t try and play Foden on the wing either – I’m all for playing people in their natural position – he already gave up his favoured 9 role to make a go of it at 15 – don’t now try and convert him to a winger!
    A fit Foden or if not then Brown at 15.
    On the summer tour – would love to see May, Wade, Thompstone and Eastmond (Biggs has been around a while – if he was going to make it surely he would have by now?) some gametime.
    As for left wing/right wing – the only person who should have a problem changing wing is Monye as he’s incapable of carrying the ball under his left arm – which is odd as he usually plays left wing which is why he’s not good enough for England!
    Yarde is promising but Wade had the measure of him in defence and attack

    • Foden has already been played on the wing during the SA tour – he looked pretty decent

      In fact, he was put there to accommodate Brown at fullback, which suggests Foden is third in the fb pecking order

    • I’m more and more impressed with Thompstone every time I see him play. A good strong ball carrier and deceptively quick as well. Like you I’m surprised nobody else mentioned him before.

      A back three of Strettle, Ashton and Brown would be good for the Italy game. Strettle has been released back to Sarries for the weekend, and against London Welsh (and with Hodgson at fly half), he should get plenty of scoring opportunities.

  9. I think there’s two main factors in the perceived dip in form by Chris Ashton

    1. Englands backline is generally much better across the board under Stuart Lancaster, than it was during Ashtons ‘glory days’ with Martin Johnson. Consequentially this means of course, that he’s going to look less impressive playing alongside some other good players, that can luckily afford him the opportunity to relax somewhat on the try scoring front. The Ashton of old of course spent more time crossing the whitewash because it was a heavily relied on tactic used by an uncreative side, that didn’t often score tries through other mediums like the centers.

    2. He’s missed a few obvious tackles. I’m not denying that his defense has been poor, but you also can’t say it was any worse than Courtney Lawes or Ben Youngs at the weekend? Make him hit a tackle bag all week in training and it should sort it out. Remember it wasn’t long ago that in the same England vs France fixture last year Ashton made a crucial it on Swarzeski to turn the ball over and create a try for Tuiligi. People miss tackles from time to time.

    Generally speaking I get the feeling England supporters are calling for Ashton to be dropped because now we have such an abundance of talent coming through, naturally fans are anxious to see each good player get a chance with England. Fair enough that’s understandable and if someone was really making a super strong case for selection then maybe you oould see WHY Ashton should be dropped, however this isn’t the case. All his main competetors are still looking pretty average, maybe with the odd well taken try here and there.

    I’d also just like to add Tom Varndell is not Englands answer. He had his chance a few years ago and blew it big time. He’s a good club player but not an international.

    • I don’t think Varndell has had a real opportunity to show what he can offer England. His first cap was 5 minutes off the bench against Samoa. He then played two matches against Australia as a 20 year old in an inexperienced England side that kept giving him man and ball (a number of senior players were rested for the summer tour). Up against Tuqiri it’s no surprise he came off second best back then. His only subsequent cap was in another inexperienced England side on a summer tour to New Zealand. At that stage he was 22. Despite all that he has 3 tries in his four caps. He’s only 27, his defence is much improved and he’s been in great try scoring form this season. No doubt he’ll end up getting another similar “opportunity” for England this summer while the bulk of the England team are either on Lions duty or rested.

  10. It has to be Wade. Both Monye and Varndell have both appeared for England before, and while they’re great club players, they’d be established international players by by now if they were up to it.

    Could be good take Ashton out of the picture completely (allow him to regain some form), and put in someone like Kyle Eastmond in the match-day squad with Wade so he’s not thrust in to the limelight alone.

    Having said that, I feel May deserves his chance, and Sharples should get another crack…haven’t even mentioned Rec favourite, Biggsy!

    One things for sure, there’s no shortage of options!

  11. Ashton has been lucky to keep his place for a while now. Granted, when in form he is very effective and efficient, but he hasn’t been in form at international level for a while and so i’d use the last 2 games to experiment slightly. When the EPS is revised, I’d like to see Johnny May be given a go, but as he isn’t even in the EPS at the moment, that is not an option. Strettle has had a few chances (granted, most of which has been dampered by injury), but he has never really taken his chances. That said, he is our only other winger in the EPS. Personally, I’d try a different back three combination and play Foden on the wing, along with Strettle and have Brown at FB. I can hear everyone screaming at me now ‘why o why play Foden on the wing’!?!? Simply put, Foden is a fantastic counter striker with great pace and power. He runs good lines, is defensively solid and secure under the high ball. Add to that, he is also one of our most experienced players. Positive it won’t happen, but this is the team I’d play against Italy (injury dependant).

    1. M.Vunipula
    2. T.Youngs
    3. Cole
    4. Launchbury
    5. Parling
    6. Wood
    7. Robshaw
    8. B.Vunipula
    9. B.Youngs
    10. Farrell
    11. Strettle
    12. Twelvetrees
    13. Tuilagi
    14. Foden
    15. Brown

    16. Hartley
    17. Marler
    18. Wilson
    19. Lawes
    20. Haskell
    21. Care
    22. Burns (if fit) Flood (if not)
    23. Goode

  12. Now I’m not always a great supporter of Ashton and I don’t think he’s in the best of form at the moment, but I have to say that the last two games may not be the perfect ones to judge a winger on as the defences of France and Ireland were very good and the time on the ball for distribution was very limited. Also I would reiterate waht has been said above about Ashton being best supporting on the shoulder of a player making a clean break. Goode just doeasn’t do that, and the midfield haven’t in the last two games either. Defence has looked poor, but Fofana has made a large number of people miss in his career already!

    Personally if I was replacing him I would go for Sharples. He looked good on the right for England but then a bit lost when switched to the left. Electric pace, decent defence and a finisher.

    • Agreed – Sharples for me too – or maybe Strettle
      Ashton has not performed well for about a year now – he needs to go away and find his form again or adapt his game

  13. Patrick Saunders February 27, 2013 at 5:20 pm -

    Ashton has scored in only 2 of his last 15 matches. Of his 17 international tries, 11 have come against the likes of Georgia, Romania, Italy and Scotland. He has failed to score on opposition turf in over 2 years and only managed it on two occasions in his entire international career.

    While he runs good support lines, he is dependent on others (e.g. Flood, who is no longer first choice) to put him in space. He is not as big or powerful as North, Cuthbert or Visser. He is not elusive like Gilroy or Wade. He is not as skilful as Zebo. He’s not as fast as Varndell. He does not create for others in the same way that Tommy Bowe does when he pops up in the center. His kicking game is unremarkable. He has always been defensively suspect and his on-field behaviour is increasingly becoming a liability.

    Chris Aston is a myth built on one outstanding try against Australia early in his career. He should be nowhere near an England or a Lions jersey.

    • Patrick, ALL wingers are dependent upon the others. Even the big fellas you mention. I think that Ashton’s reputation is not built upon the long-range try against Australia but rather, some of the short range stuff where he has turned up on the last shoulder to “finish” the move.

      Unfortunately, some people put this down to luck, when in fact it takes a great deal of skill, and game sense to do. Unlike his Australia try, that required more on outright pace – I don’t deny that it was a fine try, but there are a great deal of Wingers who would have scored it – but not necessarily have got themselves into the right positions for many of his other tries.

  14. Liam,you’re right in saying that Varndell blew his chance with England a few years ago.His main problem was defence.As big and fast a try scorer as he is,it’s fair to say that at the highest level he would always get exposed….reminds me off a bloke called Ashton.

  15. I don’t buy all this ‘Varndell had his change years ago’ business. It completely negates the fact that people can improve. People can improve, you know. And get better. Work on weaknesses etc. Look at Ma’a Nonu. He was shocking early on in his career. He had Tuilagi-type power and a step….but couldn’t pass, couldn’t kick, was ill-disciplined….so he went away and worked on stuff. Imagine if NZ had given up on him then!!!

    I personally wouldn’t give up on Varndell and Monye just yet. Just because they didn’t set the world alight liast time, doesn’t mean they won’t this time.

    Ta

    • Matt, I agree that Monye has always been written off a bit unfairly whilst generally playing ok for England. Maybe he’s worth including in a summer tour to see if he’s still got it?

      Varndell on the other hand is yesterday’s old news, so much so that they’ll probably need to carbon date him to find out when he last played for England! Even if he has improved (which I see no evidence of) its still not enough to cut it at the top level. Some players just don’t have it and he’s one of them. Varndell is so one dimensional, at times I think Wasps are playing a cardboard cut out!

      Also we already have a perfectly good option in Sharples so why push for someone whose already fumbled their chance such as Tom Varndell.

  16. For people talking about Eastmond being put on the wing. Bath are yet to figure out where his best position is, and they seem to have figured out that sticking him on the wing does not take advantage of his strengths.
    He has looked extremely sharp at IC for the past few matches, running at the line and fizzing deft passes out to release people outside him. I think I read that England were looking at developing him as a full back, which could work if he can use the skills he’s been displaying at IC from FB.
    A bit like Goode was brought in to do, except he can actually beat defenders.

  17. Don’t think we should be looking at Ashton in isolation. Try counts and strike rates aren’t everything, but are relevant in my opinion, so here is how the main contenders stack up:
    - Brown 14 caps – 0 tries (club premiership strike rate 31%)
    - Goode 9 caps – 0 tries (club premiership strike rate 8%)
    - Ashton 32 caps – 17 tries (club premiership strike rate 61%)
    - Varndell 4 caps – 3 tries (club premiership strike rate 48%)
    - Strettle 13 caps – 1 try (club premiership strike rate 23%)
    - Foden 30 caps – 7 tries (club premiership strike rate 23%)
    - Wade 0 caps (club premiership strike rate 59%)
    - Sharples 4 caps – 2 tries (club premiership strike rate 30%)
    - Monye 14 caps – 2 tries (club premiership strike rate 34%)

    So whilst the likes of Wade are scoring some of the most special tries I have even seen in the premiership, Ashton still has a better strike rate (and for longer). Whilst he needs to be working hard with Farrell on his defence this week Catt needs to be studying the video archives to find ways we should have be putting him in. Maybe a 36 & Manu combination in the centre would help and he needs a full back he can run off. If we replace him for someone with a vastly inferior strike rate (Strettle, Monye, Sharples) I think we are kidding ourselves if we expect them to be regularly crossing the whitewash at international level.

    Goode scores a try every 12 games for Sarries, yes he has other attributes but this just isn’t enough of a threat and I see limited evidence of link play with the wings so not creating anything for them. Brown’s strike rate from fullback is better than Foden’s at club level, so I think it’s best to start playing him in the position he has been effective at for club level. He runs the ball back better, so at least gives someone for Ashton to run off.

    On the other wing I would go with Varndell. The likes of Monye and Strettle have had a few goes at it and not done anything special. It’s a long time since Varndell had a chance, he is a confidence player and flying high at the moment. Pick him when he is on fire and give him the best chance of making a real breakthrough. If that isn’t possible for player access reasons I would go for Wade. Yes there are risks and he has aspects of his game to work on, but I just don’t think we can keep picking back 3 players that don’t score tries for their club and then being bemused when they don’t score any for England either.

    • I think these stats are very interesting! And back up my point that dropping Ashton is crazy! A lot of these wingers here have just as suspect defence as he has. Has everyone forgot that is why Sharples got dropped after the Aussie game in the Autumn? Varndell and Wade has obvious defensive flaws that are worse than Ashtons. Whilst the other wingers have a far worse premiership strike rate.

      Stick with Ashton and have Brown or Foden at full back. Simple.

      • I think this is what Lancaster will do for the Italy game. Strettle, Ashton and Browne at full back. This gives Brown the opportunity at full back to show what he can do in his favoured position, and someone Ashton can run off. Also Strettle is on good club form at the moment and if he can stay fit, could be the answer. He’s a very good footballer, and a very balanced runner. Also his defence has got better since being at Sarries. It’s still not great but name me a wing who does have a great defence.

        • Great analysis Matt. Ashton might not be Julian Savea but nobody else is better.

          Personally I would like to see see 12ts partner Manu in the center so we have an extra passer and don’t need Goode’s play-making. Then you can move Brown to fullback as a better counter attacker/strike runner. Left wing remains a problem though as I just don’t feel like Strettle is up to it. My choice would be Foden as I can’t think of an aspect of his play that is worse than Strettle’s.

  18. Cheers Liam – i appreciate that. But i’m not sure how you can say you’re seeing no evidence of him improving? Isn’t he leading the try count right now? Or he must be right up there? Plus improvements just comes with experience, sometimes?

    I don’t know. I’m not saying he’s the answer. I just think he deserves another stab.

  19. As somebody who always played as a forward, I’ll probably get shot down for commenting on a winger. The simple fact of it is that, in my opinion, you should never judge a player on the tries they have scored. We’ve seen Tom Croft run half the pitch to down the ball in an extravagant fashion… yet nobody is saying he should play on the wing (but surely he should be in for a look in if we’re looking purely at spotting space and downing the ball?).

    Overall, Ashton has a solid game. He doesn’t come up on the radar that often as he doesn’t play with too much flair… that’s not his game. However, he’s been missing a few important tackles and admittedly isn’t playing his best, even though he is still in my opinion, better than most of those named above.

    I think he needs a few games coming off the bench, not to be taken out of the team. Take away he toys so he starts to miss them, then I’m sure he’ll buck his ideas up.

  20. Where did you get those stats from? I find it hard to belive that Ashton has scored that many tries for Sarries this season. I can remember maybe one… If that!

    There is no need for Lancaster to play fall-backs on the wing when we have so many first class wingers in this country! Brown and Foden should not be playing on the wing!

    Ashton needs to know that he does not own that shirt, he has played poorly for this whole 6 nations. He has not run many meters, he has not beaten many defenders and I don’t have the correct stats but from memory he has lost the ball on a turnover 2/3 times.
    I don’t mean to seem harsh, it just anoys me that when England has such a massive crop of players to choose from they still choose the same ones, even when they underperform.

    • Where are all these wonderful wingers then?

      Strettle – never really lived up to early promise (should never have left Quins!), hardly setting the world alight at Sarries

      Sharples – poor defensively on last outing, hardly setting the world alight at Gloucester

      Varndell – can’t tackle

      May / Wade / Yarde – ones for the future, not complete articles yet, prob best not to sling them in with a possible GS on horizon

      Biggs – a possibility but again, not exactly hammering on the selectors door

      Monye – solid but like Biggs, not making a definitive case for selection

      I see no issue with playing full-backs at wing if they can do it – never seemed to hurt Robinson or Lewsey

      • Pablito, one does wonder about the moves to Sarries of both Strettle and Ashton. Neither seem to have benefitted (on the pitch) from it.

        • Hmmmm I wonder why they moved? Same reason Gethin Jenkins did – for the retirement fund I would guess. However doesn’t always make sense as far as playing goes.

          • I think that is a bit harsh on Strettle and Ashton. When Strettle left Quins, the did not look like a great side, and Saracens were a far better side. I don’t think anyone predicted two years ago that Quins would be the side the are now would they?

            And it seems Ashton moved because his best mate (Tomkins) was at Sarries, and Saints looked to be on the way down – which has proved true this season.

            Although I agree their wallets have not done badly out of it!

          • Strettle may well have made more cash overall if he could have become a fixture in the England side.

            Imagine if both Strettle and Ashton were playing for Quins. With their current style, both would be rolling in the tries. I think their fast-paced off-loading game would particularly suit Ashton

          • I accept that cash isn’t always the be all and end all in players moving. Interesting article as to why players move could be on the cards perhaps….?

        • Strettle’s strike rate is similar for Sarries and Quins, so no evidence he would have done better staying at Quins.

          • As pointed out above – Quins now are a rather different proposition to the team they were when he left

            If he had the same strike rate in a poor Quins side as he does in a very good Saracens one, then that rather suggests that he was playing better for Quins

            What would his strike rate be like if he was playing in today’s Quins team?

          • Fair point Pablito. Either way you don’t see many top class wingers on less than 50% strike rates at international level, let alone domestic. So I don’t think he is remotely close to a lethal winger.

      • I agree with Pablito Here none of the wings are playing very well so moving fullbacks across makes sense.

      • Who was the last winger to score two tries away at Leicester? I don’t know but Strettle has scored three tries in the last three Premiership matches, and also some great assists in some of the others, so he’s on form and he’s in the EPS, whereas most of the people being talked about here are not, so they can’t be selected anyway.

    • The stats are from the ESPN scrum player profiles.

      Ashton was 3 tries in 8 games for Sarries I recall, Strettle’s rate was similar for both Quins and Sarries, so no evidence it is a low club strike rate because he now plays with a club that typically has a less expansive game.

      I’m not saying Ashton is in great form or anything, but he is the only premiership winger that has been remotely prolific over any period of time. But he is a finisher, not a creator, if we don’t play in a way that creates any opportunities he can finish he is a waste of a winger. I think we have to treat a cause and not a symptom though.

      In SA Foden at least looked like he had enough gas to be an out and out winger, so I wouldn’t be against that option if he is fit. Though I really think someone who is on fire, on 11 tries so far this season should be earning a shot.

  21. I think that this should be the team for Italy
    1. Vunipola
    2. Youngs
    3. Cole
    4. Launchbury
    5. Parling
    6. Wood
    7. Robshaw
    8. Vunipola

    9. Youngs
    10. Farrell (if not fit burns)
    11. Foden
    12. 36
    13. Tuilagi
    14. Ashton
    15. Brown

  22. initially i disregarded brian smith’s comments that yarde is a better player than ashton, but then i recalled that smith coached ashton with england for a couple of years, so he actually has a better knowledge of both players than i thought.

    based on current dealings i think i would go for pretty much any winger over ashton at the moment, especially after he came out trying to defend himself (seems like the only thing he is defending at the moment!)

    we all know the names like wade, varndell, may, biggs, eastmond, sharples, monye and yarde have been thrown out as replacements for ashton. even strettle has scored 5 tries in his last 5 prem games. many have also said foden, but a back 3 of 3 fullbacks would be taking it a bit far… i would like to throw a couple other names into the hat for england wing spots (not all may be injury free at the moment, and a few are positional changes)

    JJ – shouldnt waste him sitting behind manu as 13 cover when we have a player like tomkins to cover 13. has played wing and 15 for irish this season.

    Daly – same as above. plus his ability to kick goals from about 55m would be pretty handy. has played wing and 15 for wasps.

    matt tait – has pace, and can kick. has been doing well at 15, also has the knowledge of having played 13 a lot. very experienced and still quite young (played in a RWC final)

    Ojo – not playing his best, but would probably still do damage compared to ashton.

    miller – sale arent doing too well, but he is a good footballer (plays 15 and 10 too) and was last years top prem tryscorer (at least for most if not in the end…)

    thompstone – been getting rave reviews from the tigers.

    jamie elliot – 5 tries in his last two prem games, need i say more?

    abendanon – another fullback on the wing, but unlike brown abendanon has been known for his pace and try scoring throughout, with a poaching ability. he is a lot like foden as an option, although maybe bringing a little less defence but a bit more x-factor (only a little each way)

    banahan – a 6ft 7 winger… so he doesnt set the world alight, but i dont think he would let north or cuthbert run over him… and imagine having tuilagi, twelvetrees and banahan running down the 10 channel at once. a scary (but hugely long shot) prospect.

    james short – saracen with ashton and strettle, but he seems to be more of a ball in hand winger as opposed to those two who chase kicks most of the time.

    both arscott brothers- big, fast and solid. won’t set the world alight (too often), but both are solid in defence, have good boots and can score some great tries.

    as you can see i started pulling some names out of the hat (i left a fair few in though) but ashton has really let the side down, and he needs to be shown its not ok. also his comments about “not being afraid to tackle” have annoyed me. its not his bravery thats in question, its his execution and success rate!