Pressure on Ashton and Foden ahead of trip to Paris

Prior to the Six Nations the idea of dropping Chris Ashton and Ben Foden would have seemed preposterous. But three games into this year’s Six Nations championship and with two weeks to prepare before facing France in Paris, England’s back three has been blunt and needs sharpening up.

The issue with Foden is that while his work rate is as good as ever, he is failing to get beyond the first tackler with each return of the ball from deep. Line breaks have proven rare for England so far in the Lancaster era, with just four in three games, but Foden and Ashton are supposed to be the men to create those chances. Add to that Foden’s lack of tries for England, two in his last 12 matches, plus his nightmare five minutes in Rome and the heat is certainly on his back.

Ashton however is a different matter. Whilst Foden’s problems are stemming not from a lack of desire or hard work, Ashton’s seem more psychological. Twice against Wales he found himself in one on one situations on the left with space in which to work between him and the touchline. Both times he refused to back himself, cutting inside and immediately being tackled rather than attempting to create a chance. Those two moments aside, perhaps overwhelmed by the task of handling George North, he was anonymous and not for the first time in this year’s Six Nations. Famed for his involvement coming infield off his wing, his absence has been a concern.

Looking back through his career with England so far, 11 of his 15 tries have come against teams ranked outside the IRB’s top ten. It raises the question whether in the big games Ashton has the temperament to handle the pressure. There are braces against Australia in 2010 and Wales in 2011 to support his case, but blanks against France in the RWC quarter-final, against Ireland in the Grand Slam loss last March and if you’re being very harsh, on debut against France in Paris two years ago when a key chance was squandered, all working against him. A try can transform a winger’s confidence, but fail to score against France next weekend and Ashton will level his longest drought of five international matches without crossing the line.

The duo’s experience though works in their favour. England have changed such a large number of personnel over the last month that to reduce that number of caps even further, especially in the tournament’s hardest fixture away in Paris, would seem a gamble too far. England might be looking to remodel themselves but wins matter as well as development. With the Rugby World Cup seedings to be decided at the end of the year, England have nine matches to break back into the top four of the IRB Rankings and avoid facing the SANZAR nations and Wales or France. Wins also matter to Stuart Lancaster, if he is to be employed in the role full time.

That being said, Lancaster has not been afraid to address the areas where players are not performing or systems are failing to function; such as Phil Dowson, Ben Youngs and at outside centre. There will no doubt be a temptation to try Charlie Sharples and Mike Brown in 14 and 15 roles in training this week, but it is not the ideal solution. That lies in Ashton and Foden rediscovering their spark in attack, following Dave Strettle’s example, because England need them back at their best.

by Ben Coles

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17 comments on “Pressure on Ashton and Foden ahead of trip to Paris

  1. don’t know how you can think about replacing Farrell after last week. I’d start him in every England game for the next 12 years if he stays fit and in form like last week. (Altho of course i expect him to get even better).

    • His performance was good but it was not Dan Carter esque as “every game for the next 12 years” would suggest. He made some mistakes with ball in hand and missed a kickable penalties. We can be happy with him but he is not the messiah.

      • I agree with Matt and Nick’s Dan Carter comparison although understandable is slightly unfair.

        What we need to understand when it comes to Owen Farrell is he is still very young yes mistakes will be made but he is showing signs of maturing into a world class player.

        Maybe some forget when Jonny Wilkinson was injured the amount of tried and tested number 10′s we put in but couldn’t do the job Olly Barkley, Andy Goode, Danny Cipriani and to some extent Charlie Hodgson.

        Give Owen time and with support from Hodgson and Flood he will do just fine, as I am sure you will agree Dan Carter started somewhere…….

  2. I don’t understand why people are suggesting to leave Ashton in because of past glories. I agree that he is a force to be reckoned with if his mind is in the right place, but the simple fact is that, at the moment, it is clearly elsewhere.

    It’s complete crap that he hasn’t had many try-scoring opportunities. The article above alludes to two against Wales where he didn’t back himself and therein lies the problem. He didn’t believe he could win a one-on-one situation. Would the likes of Sinbad, Sharples, May, Garvey etc. done the same thing? You can argue that SL’s game plan isn’t allowing Ashton to come into the middle of the park but if we as fans can see that is where Ashton has scored many of his tries, you’re damn sure SL can see it as well. Why on earth would he want to take away the most valuable and dangerous part of Ashton’s game? Give Sharples a run out in Paris because, at the moment, I get the impression that Ashton feels he is untouchable.

    The Ben Foden/Mike Brown question is a different animal altogether. I’m a big fan of Brown and have been for a number of years. I disagree that he is just a good club player for the simple fact that we haven’t seen him properly tested at international level. I resent that any player should be labelled a “good club player” until given a chance on a bigger stage. Having said that, despite a nightmare five minutes against Italy, Foden has been solid and has been trying to get involved, continually aiming to beat the first man. Someone said that he should start against France with the idea of bringing Brown on later and I think that is spot on.

    Just as a final point, is it me or is Foden standing much deeper when England go on the offensive? Before it appeared that he was much closer to the centres but now stands off slightly.

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