Comment: Chris Ashton surely has to go on the Lions tour
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Chris Ashton’s extraordinary scoring form for Saracens must surely put him in contention for a Lions call up ahead of the squad announcement on Wednesday.
The Toulon-bound winger found the try-line once more in the dominant 40-19 win over Harlequins at Wembley, taking his tally to 12 tries in all competitions this season.
More impressively, Ashton has now scored seven times in his last five games for Saracens – a scoring rate that must have caught the eye of Lions head coach Warren Gatland.
Very few wingers in the Premiership and Pro12 can boast as notable a record this year, made all the more impressive by the fact he was side-lined during the first half of the season through suspension.
For the Lions to have any chance of beating the All Blacks they will have to score tries – Ashton’s credentials and strike-rate would undoubtedly put him at the forefront of selection.
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The Sarries flyer has been instrumental in the success of the club during his five years in north London.
A winger with an appetite for work on the pitch, Ashton’s recent performances against Glasgow Warriors and Bath, underlines his exceptional game-awareness, knowing exactly where to run his support lines for ball carriers to offload.
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The pressure on the Lions to win a first Test series in New Zealand in more than 40 years could be the scenario where Ashton thrives – at Saracens, domestically and in Europe, he does it so well.
Ashton complements Saracens’ game very well. The north London club attack with ball in hand and look to offload to supporting runners as well as playing an expansive game that tires defences.
A similar style of rugby will need to be adopted by Gatland and his coaches in an attempt to out-smart a New Zealand team that haven’t been beaten by a Lions side since 1971.
Having a player of Ashton’s quality in the fold will offer something different, perhaps something the All Blacks won’t be expecting. With Ashton you’re guaranteed tries and he’s in a position where his fellow Lions rivals don’t always offer the same reliable services.
Saracens are set to provide a healthy contingent of Lions squad members, with the likes of Maro Itoje, Mako and Billy Vunipola, Owen Farrell and Jamie George all in line to receive call-ups. With one more Premiership game at Northampton this weekend before the announcement next week, it provides a final opportunity for players like Ashton to go from a possible to a probable.
With the current crop of players in the four home nations, there’s perhaps never been a greater chance of beating the All Blacks in their own back yard than this. If Ashton is selected, it will provide a sense of how Gatland expects the Lions to play – attacking, running rugby.
For Ashton, a spot on the plane will cap five hugely successful years at Saracens before his move to the south of France and will be the rewards for timing his incredible scoring form perfectly.