December 7 2013 Latest news:
By James Cunliffe
Friday, September 6, 2013
Alex Sanderson has warned Saracens’ Premiership rivals that Chris Ashton has the “bit between his teeth” after a summer where he was snubbed by the British and Irish Lions and rested for England’s tour of Argentina.
While Wales’ wings Alex Cuthbert and George North got the nod, along with Tommy Bowe, for the Lions successful series in Australia, it was a summer that saw strong contenders emerge for Ashton’s Red Rose shirt.
Not least Wasps’ Christian Wade who, off the back of joining Jonny Wilkinson as the only man to win the top flight’s Players’ Player of the Year and the Young Player of the Year awards in one season, was taken to South America by England boss Stuart Lancaster and then drafted in as injury cover for the Lions.
Another young English sharpshooter that came to prominence this summer for the national side was Marland Yarde and he is likely to line up against Saracens this weekend for London Irish as the two sides face each other in the traditional opening day of the campaign London Double Header at Twickenham.
But fowards coach Sanderson is predicting big things from Ashton after the 26-year-old scored a brace of tries in each of the last two pre-season games against Cornish Pirates and Bedford blues.
“It’s going to be a massive year for Chris,” he said.
“Certainly he is an improved player than he was last year.”
Sanderson continued: “I honestly haven’t seen anyone train as hard as he has this summer.
“He’s really got the bit between his teeth, not that he didn’t have it before, but every other year he’s been on tour for someone, so he’s used this opportunity to work on his speed, his strength and his handling. He wants to improve his all round skills
“He’s the fittest guy we’ve got in the squad and that’s [including] people like Neil De Kock who is three stones lighter than him and fly-halves who are also a bit lighter.
“He’s one of the fittest and the fastest.”
Sanderson was one of the men responsible for the fact that Saracens boasted the most miserly defence in the Premiership last term.
On the other hand, the Hendon outfit ran in a record low 41 tries for a team that came top of pile.
However a more attack-minded Sarries crashed in 19 scores against Pirates and Blues, with Sanderson admitting they’ve been making changes in the off-season.
“We’ve changed our attacking structure slightly and that will become obvious in televised games and with people analysing us in the first few weeks of the season,” he said. “I won’t go into it because at least we’ll have an element of surprise in the first game against London Irish.
“We just want to get the ball in the hand of our best players more often. The old pod structure that we had, where we had our tight forwards in the middle of the field, they were actually touching the ball twice as much as the fast guys on the outskirts.
“When you make signings like we have with Billy Vunipola, we want [David] Strettle and Ashton to get their hands on the ball more.
“So this attacking structure allowed them to do that.”