Toulon flyer Chris Ashton breaks the Top 14 try-scoring record
“The fans thrill to Ashton’s electrifying impact, his airborne Ash Splash in the end zone, his endless stamina and eye for the main chance”
Chris Ashton moved stylishly into French rugby legend against Top 14 leaders Montpellier. He has now scored more tries in a season than anyone else in the league’s history.
That’s 22 of them for the English winger who already holds the record for touching down the most tries in elite European competition.
No-one can ever replace Jonny Wilkinson for the total respect which Toulon fans gave him in return for his wisdom and courage that earned them so much major silverware.
But Ashton is of a different stamp. They thrill to his electrifying impact, his airborne Ash Splash in the end zone, his endless stamina and eye for the main chance.
It took him only seven minutes to have the crowd in Marseille’s football stadium on their feet to salute the score that took him beyond previous record-holder Napolioni Nalaga, of Clermont.
That was one of four first-half tries that virtually guaranteed Toulon’s place in the play-offs with a 32-17 victory.
No Toulon player has spent more time on the pitch than Ashton this season during which he has scored three hat-tricks and three doubles.
He has played ten games at full-back and now eleven on the wing, versatility that does nothing to arrest the flow of points.
Boss Fabien Galthie says: “He has been a good find, eh? We wanted to give him a breather in our last match against Racing, but he really insisted on playing.”
Forwards coach Fabrice Landreau adds: “Chris wants to put the record out of reach. He just can’t stop, it’s a drug for him. He is a try hunter.”
Montpellier, in truth, had left important players out of their starting line-up with a semi-final place almost in the bag.
Like giant Fijian centre Nemani Nadolo in the stand with South African fly-half Ruan Pienaar and No.8 Louis Picamoles coming off the bench when the game was already lost.
Fijian winger Semi Radradra added a second Toulon try just four minutes after Ashton’s strike with brilliant approach work by Kiwi centre Ma’a Nonu.
Fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc was led from the field with his shoulder strapped after a brutal charge by former Toulon prop Davit Kubriashvili, who was yellow carded. France captain Guilhem Guirado, their hooker, was also taken off with a leg injury.
Trinh-Duc was replaced by Anthony Belleau whose cool dink forward was converted by captain Mathieu Bastareaud, who then set up Argentine flanker Facundo Isa for the fourth try and a 29-7 lead at the break.
Toulon have made a habit lately of losing big games they might well have won. Montpellier, who had scored a first-half try through centre Vincent Martin, went on to deprive their title rivals of a bonus point with further tries by Cameroon winger Gabriel Ngandebe and back-rower Kevin Galletier.
A lapse rendered less damaging by a 33-22 defeat for Pau, their closest pursuers in the top six: A result with major impact at the other end of the table.
It was achieved in heroic fashion by Agen, the club that featured the great- est playing days of France centre legend Philippe Sella, still involved as a director.
Sella must have been thrilled. Especially since Pau had ambitions far above their own lowly status.
Agen have a magical hat-trick of tries from Fijian winger Filipo Nakosi to thank for achieving it. On loan from Toulon where his half-brother Josua Tuisova plays, Nakosi went over twice in the first half and once in the second.
His third strike overturned a narrow Pau interval lead secured by three tries in ten minutes from hooker Quentin Lespiaucq, winger Jale Vatubua and scrum-half Thibault Daubagna.
Leading by just six points, Agen confirmed their shock success with a fourth try from Kiwi winger George Tilsley. A feat all the more exceptional for having lost three times to Pau this season in domestic and European competition.
Bottom club Oyonnax were another defiant outfit scrapping to avoid relegation. They managed to leapfrog Brive by beating them 40-17.
Not too surprising given Brive’s record of garnering just three points during a winless campaign on their travels.
Oyonnax, who had shown recent resilience by beating Toulon at home and both Clermont and BordeauxBegles away, scored five tries, one of them from prolific fly-half Ben Botica who scored all their points for a 14-5 lead at the break.
Rumanian lock Valentin Ursache added two more with flanker Patrick Sobela and Kiwi hooker Quentin MacDonald wrapping up the scoring.
Brive fought an uphill battle after an early try by No.8 Fabien Sanconnie and further strikes by Fijian centre Seremaia Burotu and Portuguese scrum-half were never enough.
Clermont beat Bordeaux-Begles 33-3 in a match that had no meaning at both ends of the table. Captain Morgan Parra was his reliable self with four penalties and three conversions. Occasional Aussie hooker John Ulugia scored two tries for the first time in their colours.
Record man: Chris Ashton has scored 22 T14 tries this season