Ash­ton un­leashed for All Blacks clash

Jones gives winger first in­ter­na­tional start in four years in bid to down New Zealand

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - Mick Cleary RUGBY COR­RE­SPON­DENT

Ed­die Jones has turned to Chris Ash­ton to help “change Eng­land rugby his­tory” against New Zealand to­mor­row.

The Sale wing has been cho­sen for his preda­tory in­stincts as a means of al­ter­ing the nar­ra­tive of matches be­tween these coun­tries. Even at Twick­en­ham, Eng­land have been a mere sup­port­ing cast to the back-to-back world cham­pi­ons, with only five wins in 22 matches.

Jones is bullish about re­cast­ing that record, aware of the press­ing need to score tries. Hence the re­call for Ash­ton, one of the game’s most po­tent op­er­a­tors, as he proved when he broke the French Top 14 record in his one sea­son at Toulon. He plun­dered 24 tries that year be­fore re­turn­ing to his home coun­try to tilt for a World Cup place. This is his op­por­tu­nity to shoot high, and Eng­land’s chance to add a sig­nif­i­cant notch to their belt.

“Play­ing against New Zealand is some­thing in your life that you never want to re­gret and for our play­ers there is a chance to change Eng­land rugby his­tory,” said Jones. “Of our play­ers, 33 per cent have beaten New Zealand and we want to come off the field with 100 per cent hav­ing beaten New Zealand.”

It is seven years and 100 Tests since the All Blacks lost to a side who did not score a try. New Zealand have scored 59 tries in 10 Tests year while Eng­land have man­aged only 22 in nine, draw­ing a blank against South Africa last week­end in a 12-11 win. Ash­ton is charged with boost­ing that tally.

“Chris can sniff a try from any­where,” said Jones of the man whose pre­vi­ous start for his coun­try was four years ago in New Zealand, when Eng­land were beaten 36-13. “He’s a try-get­ter and to beat New Zealand you have to score tries.

“It is noth­ing coached with Chris. You can only stuff up guys like that by coach­ing them. You just give them a free rein, give them a frame­work to op­er­ate in, make them feel good about them­selves, make sure they’ve got a smile on their face and away they go.

“If Chris hadn’t got into so much trou­ble [with var­i­ous sus­pen­sions] he’d have played more Tests al­ready. He’s al­ways up to no good. Wher­ever there’s trou­ble, there’s Ash­ton. Per­haps he’s got a deal with a lawyer that he gets paid ex­tra if he gets more work. Chris is a good player and has been for a long time.”

Will Jones be ad­vis­ing against the trade­mark “Ash-splash” try cel­e­bra­tion? “I don’t care what he does. I haven’t even thought about it.”

For Ash­ton to flour­ish, many other things have to fall into place. The pack, where there are two changes – Ben Moon leapfrog­ging his Ex­eter team-mate Alec Hep­burn on the loose­head and Bath’s Sam Un­der­hill com­ing in for the in­jured Tom Curry – have to chisel de­cent ball and the back line has to put it to good use.

Cen­tral to the lat­ter part of that equa­tion is Owen Far­rell, start­ing as fly-half for only the fourth time un­der Jones. As the tac­ti­cal ful­crum of the side, Far­rell has plenty to of­fer. As its emo­tional heart­beat he is indis­pens­able.

Far­rell was the cen­tre­piece of post-match scru­tiny against the Spring­boks for his con­tentious, bone-shud­der­ing tackle on An­dre Ester­huizen in the last minute. Although many felt the tackle to be il­le­gal, it was deemed fair by the ref­eree, An­gus Gard­ner – although it was no co­in­ci­dence that World Rugby re­it­er­ated yes­ter­day its stance on crack­ing down on “noarms tack­les and high tack­les”.

“If he [Far­rell] was Johnny Sex­ton then we’d be able to com­plain about him [on his be­half] but be­cause he is Owen Far­rell he’s al­lowed to be hit late,” said Jones, who has had to man­age Far­rell’s work­load this week, es­pe­cially as he took a blow to the hip.

“He’s a tough rooster so he gets up. He takes the ball to the line, puts his body on the line. He keeps do­ing it. Owen doesn’t play in a din­ner suit. He is a war­rior. Play­ers like him are never 100 per cent right in terms of fit­ness. They get on the field, they play and they give you ev­ery­thing they’ve got.

“Owen wants to play ev­ery week. He is a com­peti­tor. If we are play­ing mar­bles on a Wed­nes­day, he wants to play. You can’t put blokes like him in cot­ton wool. They want to play for their coun­try. They want to make their coun­try great.”

Jones kept stress­ing that he sees ev­ery one of his 23-man squad as equal in merit and that the two changes made on pref­er­ence, Ash­ton and Moon, were sim­ply suited to the start­ing-fin­ish­ing dy­namic.

“If I had my way, I’d have all the play­ers num­bered the same,” said Jones. “Some guys will start, some will fin­ish. His­tory tells us that New Zealand win most of their games in the last 20 min­utes. So, which one is more im­por­tant this week, the starter or the fin­isher?

“The ac­cel­er­a­tion re­quire­ment of the play­ers is 30 per cent more than it was two or three years ago. The game is phys­i­cally more in­tense so you need to be able to fill the high work-rate po­si­tions with two play­ers. It is about try­ing to max­imise the 80 min­utes.”

Eng­land’s bench sees Bath’s Zach Mercer mak­ing way for the fita­gain, Test-proven Court­ney Lawes. Manu Tuilagi failed to pass muster due to a nig­gling groin prob­lem, although Jones de­clares the Le­ices­ter cen­tre to be “99.99 per cent fit”.

Tuilagi scored in the 2012 win over the All Blacks. So did Ash­ton. Jones will be hop­ing for a re­peat per­for­mance.

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