- New Saracens wing Chris Ashton reflects on South Africa tour with RFUtv
- “You learn from losing games like that second Test” – Ashton
England have the belief and resolve to challenge the best the southern hemisphere has to offer this autumn after emerging intact from the three-Test series against South Africa, according to wing Chris Ashton.
Stuart Lancaster’s side arrested a nine-game losing streak against the Springboks with a 14-14 draw in Port Elizabeth to end the trip on a high and welcome Fiji, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand to Twickenham on successive weekends in November/December for the QBE Internationals.
After two weeks away from the intensity of competition Ashton can reflect on a first trip to South Africa and, after initially outlining his relief at getting through a bruising tour unscathed, the 25-year-old said the young team have gained invaluable experience.
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With only Toby Flood and Mike Brown of the touring party having played a Test in South Africa before and Ashton said: “I got knocked out the first time I played them [in 2010] so all I remember was it that it was a ridiculously hard game with big blokes who love carrying the ball.
“So the first game was uncharted territory and no one knew what was coming, everyone was nervous for everyone and we didn’t know how to take it. And the second game at Ellis Park was a hard and intense atmosphere and that got to a few of us – that’s where you learn from losing games like that.
“Then the third game we picked it up and started to do things right. It was good to get the draw as it is always tough losing, especially when you put so much effort in.”
Edging towards an 80-minute performance
Central to beating the southern hemisphere giants is an 80-minute performance, given that England matched the Springboks for much of the series only to concede tries in flurry, which ultimately cost the first and second Tests.
Conversely, England were notable for complete performances on the way to second place in the 2012 RBS 6 Nations and Ashton believes the side were approaching that in the third Test, which is a confidence boost moving forwards.
He said: “We had little bits of about 20 minutes when we were lacking and letting tries in and we need to fix them up – we’re not that far away. We more or less played for 80 minutes in the last game and although it was unlucky we didn’t finish the way we wanted to, we need to do it every time.
“We’re gaining experience of playing in places like South Africa but at some point we have to start winning these games and can’t say we’re close to winning them. The autumn internationals will be our chance.”
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Ashton is now without a try in nine Test matches but impressed in South Africa with his all-round game: ghosting in trademark style onto Ben Youngs’ shoulder to make Toby Flood’s try in the second Test; and executing a shuddering hit on Gio Aplon in the third to win a crucial penalty to level the game in the second half.
At the outset of the tour Ashton discussed facing Bryan Habana and the opportunity to show he is a world-class defender with RFUtv and after keeping the Stormers wing tryless, the new Saracens man takes confidence from matching a player he considers to be the best in the world.
Ashton said: “He’s the best wing in the world without a doubt so it was a privilege to play against him and he’s a really nice bloke off the pitch as well. I like to think I’ve learnt a lot from playing against him.
“The kick-catch of their whole back three is unbelievable so it’s something we can concentrate on going into these next few games. I was happy with how played, thought I’d leave it to Ben Youngs to score all the tries – I’ll have to try out chasing the nine around now!”
Friends for life at Northampton
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Ashton is now officially a Saracens player and despite being scheduled to meet his new teammates on July 23, he is itching to get involved and is will probably head to training next week.
After 93 tries in 111 games for Northampton Saints, Ashton says he is searching for a new challenge at the mid-point in his career but will miss people have become a big part of his life at Franklin’s Gardens.
He added: “I’ve got friends for life hopefully at Northampton, people I’ve been with for years and they’ve become a big part of my life in five years.
“But I thought it was time to move on and try something different in life – sometimes it is good to change.”