December 9 2013 Latest news:
By James Cunliffe
Monday, September 23, 2013
David Strettle may have scored his second successive try double but Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall praised the “exceptional” performance of his other winger Chris Ashton as they thumped Bath 31-17 at Allianz Park to maintain their perfect start to Aviva Premiership.
The Hendon side blasted four scores in a stunning opening period to leave the unbeaten Bath with a mountain to climb and though Ashton didn’t get among the four scorers he highlighted his growing repertoire away from the whitewash.
In attack the 26-year-old was instrumental, providing the assist for Strettle’s second and, as a constant menace under the high ball, his pressure led to Alex Goode score.
In defence, Ashton was also a standout performer and his willingness to track and block a lone breakaway from Bath’s George Ford near the end of the contest showed his hunger, having been rested for England’s summer tour to Argentina and overlooked by the British and Irish Lions.
Indeed, if Red Rose head coach Stuart Lancaster has watched any of Ashton’s performances this term, then the winger will firmly in his plans for the autumn internationals against Australia, Argentina and New Zealand.
McCall said: “In fairness to Stuart Lancaster and his coaching staff they told him where they think he needs to make small improvements.
“They weren’t big improvements but he’s worked incredibly hard at that. He’s hungry to get better and I think he’s playing exceptionally well.”
The Northern Irishman, however, insists that Ashton will continue to be his own harshest critic.
“Chris judges himself purely on whether he scores a try or not, but for the last two weeks he’s been exceptional,” he said.
“He’s taken a lot of stick over the last 12 months or so for various aspects of his game but he was brilliant against Bath.
“One thing he’s brilliant at is scoring tries and that will happen, but his work on the ball, his collisions and his kick chase were at an international level.
“It was a wonderful tackle on George Ford near the end, but the way he did things that aren’t that sexy was important as well.
“David Strettle is 4-1 up in tries after three games, but Chris was exceptional. He’s hungry to get better.”
But Ashton wasn’t alone in hitting all the right notes in a blistering first half display where Matt Stevens also got on the scoresheet with an American football style dive over the top of a ruck, while Owen Farrell brought up his 500 Premiership points mark with 11 from the kicking tee to put the hosts 31-3 up at half time.
But it is tries that are the new feature of Sarries’ first three matches of this season as the league leaders have run in 13, already over a quarter of their meagre 41 for the whole of the last campaign.
That, McCall says, was a conscious effort.
“Our attacking system is different, we made a big change in the summer,” he said.
“We had a system that was in place for three years that we felt in the summer was handicapping some of the players we have.
“We were looking for something which got our good ball carriers on the ball more often. It’s much more flexible.
“It’s a work in progress, we’re nowhere near where we want to be with it, but you can see often Schalk Brits and the two Vunipolas got their hands on the ball.”