Saracens and England winger, Chris Ashton, kindly gave up his time to reflect on what has been a great season so far, as well as looking forward to some crucial Aviva premiership fixtures, next week’s European final and the Lions Tour.
I also managed to quiz him on his first rugby club and memories…
How Would you Judge Your season so far in terms of both personal performance and domestically for Saracens?
We’re happy with how the season has gone so far, and we’re exactly where we want to be; In an Aviva Playoff position and the European Cup final. In contention for both trophies and that was the aim at the start of the season, so the camp is positive.
In terms of next Saturday’s European final, I think it’s a rather even match. We’ve met them a few times in the past, and although they may have won more (5-2) I feel we’re a team that’s getting better and better.
They’ve been a dominant force in European rugby for a while now, however we’ve been building on strong foundations and now are where we want to be. We’ll be going in with a level head, that’s for sure…
Do you think the Prestige of the Aviva Premiership has grown in recent years?
I do, yes. You can tell just by the amount of quality players that have arrived in England – it’s no longer just France that big names are travelling to and that’s great for the league.
What’s more, this season, there’s been no top 1 team – We’ve often found that one team tend to run away with the league and then others are scrapping for the playoff positions, however this season it’s been so tight at the top and will go down to the wire this weekend. There’s a lot to play for.
How do you think the Lions will fare in New Zealand? And where you shocked with any of the selections?
Well, firstly I wasn’t surprised that I wasn’t selected; simply because there’s a lot of guys who have been playing good international rugby and you need to be doing that in order to be considered for Lions selection.
Naming no names, there were of course a few selections who caused raised eyebrows but those decisions lay on the shoulders of the coach. We know he’s not afraid to make ripples, think of his decision to start Davies ahead of O’Driscoll in the last tour’s final test. Coaches make gambles and are judged on them.
In terms of how the Lions will get on; there’s no doubt that New Zealand are the best team in the world, and have been for a while now. It will certainly be intimidating to go out and play in front of an All Black crowd, however I feel the boys will be in a good place come the first test and hopefully they’ll be able to get the win.
What was your first rugby club and can you please share your first rugby memories?
Well, Orrell St James ARLFC was my first club – I signed up because rugby was the sport to play in my family. My dad coached a team and my brother played for them so the sport was ingrained on me from an early age – of course I loved it!
My first rugby memory is of scoring a try – not sure if it was my first – but I just remember the feeling of placing the ball down over the line. I also loved the feeling of being part of a team, so much so in fact that I’ve still got friends who I met through rugby ages 6 or 7. That’s what makes rugby so great, the friendships and camaraderie that are formed on the pitch, training ground, or in the dressing room; they’re there for life.
Do you still have affiliations with Orrell St James?
Unfortunately, due to where I live and play my rugby, I don’t get down to the club nearly as much as I’d like to, however Saracens is a great club to be at in terms of mixing with the local community and we help out a lot with nearby teams.
It’s a great feeling knowing that by running a training session or presenting an award you’re making a budding young rugby player’s day. I say this not out of arrogance but because I was exactly like that at my age. Jason Robinson was my rugby hero, so if he was to walk through the changing room door I’d be so eager to impress!
I see it as vitally important that kids who play at grassroots level are assisted and inspired by the professionals; because after all, everybody starts at the grassroots and we need an enthusiastic next generation.
What advice would you give a young, aspiring rugby player, especially a winger, who’s looking to make it in the game?
Well, apart from focusing on the basics and keeping things simple (i.e. no Sonny Bill style offloads), I’d say footwork is something that often gets overlooked but can make vital differences in games. It’s something that you can practice very easily, using a ladder or set of cones – it’s so simple but having great feet on 1-1 situations.
Simply – it’s takes time to master it but if you want to make it you’ve got to put the hours in!