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. Quite right about the contrasting problems between Ashton and Foden – Ashton seems to have a real lack of confidence and a bit of an attitude problem at the moment, whereas Foden is trying hard but not making the yards we all know he can. Then again, bar his freak errors against Italy, he’s been pretty solid in defense and always looked to counterattack where possible.

    It would make sense to drop Ashton from the squad, but give Foden another chance, but with the proviso that Mike Brown would come on much earlier next time if Foden doesn’t measure up. Ashton needs to have some time away from England to get his head right, and I think despite his issues with Saints and the pending transfer, Mallinder is not a man to bear grudges and can help guide him back to form. He could go back and help Saints with their title chances and come back in good shape for the summer tour of South Africa. Besides, Charlie Sharples has to get a chance with England sooner or later, and what about Jonny May?

    Ben Youngs is another who needs to go back to his club for a bit – Joe Simpson can come in and replace him on the bench, after some storming performances in a struggling Wasps side.

  2. CLASS is permanent, form is fluid. Foden and Ashton will come good and Lancaster seems adept at nurturing talents and hard edged enough to do what he and his coaching team feel is right.

  3. i would certainly give Charlie Sharples a go in place of Ashton. Charlie has already scared half of the French team this year with his scintillating game against Toulouse.
    Ashton needs to go back to Northampton, get his attitude sorted and find some form.

  4. 11 of Ashton’s 15 tries have come against sides outside the top ten….what we should take from this is that England don’t create very many try-scoring opportunities against good teams. If Ashton is lacking in confidence at the moment then it’s a result of him buying into the hype from this time last year when he’d bagged four tries against Italy and a couple against a transitional Welsh team.

  5. Both very good points made above. Could Ashton’s surprise move to Sarries, be having a psychological effect? Possibly, but dropping him for one game could be what he needs. At the moment I would rather drop Ashton than Foden. As Matt H pointed out Foden has not been lacking in willingness, just effectiveness. But Brown could give a very different dimension. He seems to slip through gaps at ease, and has pace to burn. Sharples is very quick, but only when he has space. He is a finisher, as opposed to a creator. Ashton’s strength when on form is his eagerness to get the ball in his hands, create and finish opportunities. He has not been seen on the shoulder of the ball carrier as we used to see him. Tuiliagi and Barritt made a few half breaks that just needed someone there, but nobody appeared. Personally I wouldn’t change either for the France game, and hope they can sort it out. But maybe give Sharples a game against the Irish at Twickers.

  6. Brown does have a good habit of being in the right palce at the right time and could work well with Barritt and Tuilagi

    As for Ashton, as I just commented on the weekend rugby thread – how about we switch him for James Simpson-Daniel instead?

    • I like your thinking! Sinbad, the forgotten man of English rugby, wish he could get a chance as well. Gloucester’s back line is on fire at the moment, that has to count for something.

  7. Sharples is certainly an option. Real pace and a hunger that Ashton cannot match at the minute. You are correct in the caps department tho, experience is key. Johnny May is certainly one for the future as is Chisholm but
    Foden will come good. Class act an his defence has
    improved. Good article.

  8. People are being very harsh on Ashton. At the moment, he is the only wing in the EPS that is a proven international force, when his heads in the right place he’s devastating.
    Don’t agree with the calls for Brown to be started. He’s a good club player but he doesn’t have the pace or decision making to play international level. Plus Brown can only cover full-back.
    I’ve been banging on about jonny may for a while now, he’s quicker than sharples and is younger than Brown. See the england player ratings v wales for my comments on jonny may.

  9. Very hard to blame the winger and fullback fro the current try drought. England are not scoring any tries period, from anywhere. I don’t think any other player would have been running them in at this stage.

    Ashton, hasn’t had any quality chances, the above mentioned chances against Wales were tight. Of course one is going to be cold if one stands opn the wing defending the whole game. I would like to see him come in more, but I don’t know what lancaster has asked him to do/not do. When Johnnio was managing bothe Cueto and AShton came off the wing a lot, now niether Strettle or Ashton come in. Maybe Lancaster likes to play it differently, and we are not privy to that information.

    Foden’s defense has been good, he is a solid fullback and he has the attacking qualities, he will regain his form, I don’t think brown is a good idea for Paris. Lancaster needs to show some faith in the team.

    England don’t have a lot of front foot ball and the middfield is not the most creative in the world, if we want to create more chances we have to look further in. I would still like to see Hodgson back at 10, with barrit and Tuillagi outside him, Farrell hasn’t done anything worng, but we need creativity in the middle, for me Freddie Burns is also an interesting idea.

    • I agree with you Ronnie (on the Ashton/Foden debate). Foden and Ashton haven’t been great its true but can you honestly say they have been significantly worse than ALL the other players on the team? i dont think any of Corbisiero, Hartley, Cole, Dickson or Strettle performed much better than them. I don’t really see why they’re being singled out for their average performances in an average team performance.

  10. I’m really excited about what is happening at Cherry and Whites, Sharples, Burn, May aree all players for the future and Billy Twelvetrees is arriving soon, he is really the only hope for a passing England inside centre although he needs to develop somewhat yet, his defense is weak sometimes even if he is a big chap.

    Futue backline could be

    Youngs, Burns, Ashton , Twelvetrees, Tuilagi, Sharples, May

    Doesn’t that sound exciting, but a couple of those guys won’t make it ect ect

    but one can always dream

  11. 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…….

  12. 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.