England v Italy, Six Nations, Twickenham, February 12
Ashton reveals history of coach 'rollickings'
ESPNscrum Staff
February 11, 2011
England's Chris Ashton dives over the line for the opening try, Wales v England, Six Nations, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales, February 4, 2011
Chris Ashton's risky try-scoring technique earned him a "rollicking" from England's coaches © Getty Images

England wing Chris Ashton has revealed how a career full of punishment from coaches - including the most recent rebuke from Martin Johnson this week - has made him the player he is today.

Ashton has made a habit of getting on the wrong side of his mentors and he received what team-mate Toby Flood playfully described as a "tongue-lashing" from Johnson and the England management following his risky try celebration in last Friday's win against Wales.

Johnson also told off the Northampton star, who scored twice in England's 26-19 victory, for conceding a needless penalty and chatting back to the match officials.

"I took a lot of stick," said Ashton, after he was named in an unchanged team to face Italy. "Steve Thompson said 'let's put him at the front of the meeting and all start beating into him!'"

Ashton started celebrating his first try at the Millennium Stadium before crossing the line and he finished it with an extravagant swallow dive, with ball clutched precariously in one hand. It was a trademark Ashton score. He had come off his wing, tracking the play before appearing on Flood's left shoulder to score under the posts.

England have built much of their attacking game around having a roving wing like Ashton, it is why they employ direct runners like Shontayne Hape and Mike Tindall in midfield. But it was only because he used to get in trouble in his old rugby league days at Wigan, and was shoved out on the wing as punishment, that Ashton developed that devastating side to his game.

"It goes back to being at Wigan. For a punishment our coach Ian Millward used to throw me out on the wing," said Ashton, who was a full-back in the 13-a-side code. "He knew I hated it out there because in league you are virtually just stood on the wing and you can't get involved. Ian Millward did it a lot for things like spilling the ball in training, missing a tackle and even falling over. I don't like standing out there on my own, I want to get involved.

"When I came over to rugby union they (Northampton) said: 'You are on the wing'. I didn't want to do it so they gave me the free rein to run off the wing and I realised it wasn't the same (as league). A lot more of us are trying to do it because the opposition can't see you coming and they are not expecting you to be in that position."

Ashton, who has now scored five tries in eight Tests, insisted his show-boating had been instinctive but he has been warned to tone it down. Attack coach Brian Smith showed the squad a clip of Juan Leguizamon dropping the ball when he tried something similar during his London Irish days. Even Ashton's Northampton coach Dorian West - like Johnson, an ex-Leicester forward - put him in his place.

"International tries are hard to come by. I didn't want to do the celebration but it just happened. It is an in-the-moment thing," Ashton said. "It was a little explosion of emotion. If I had dropped it I would have been in a whole world of pain. Thankfully I didn't. It is hard sometimes not to take it too far but that is why you have blokes like Johnno to pull you back into line. I went into Northampton and Westy was on to me straight away."

The only change Johnson has made to the 22-man squad that defeated Wales is on the bench, where Hendre Fourie replaces Joe Worsley after recovering from a calf injury.

Ashton was not the only player Johnson targeted for a "rollicking" after the Cardiff win, insisting that no team has ever improved by just patting each other on the back. Although it was a landmark victory at the Millennium Stadium - it was England's first there for eight years - Johnson was encouraged by the focused and honest way his players responded.

"The good thing is when you have won a game, you can really work on those things and go hard on the team. The best thing from our point of view is that the players went hard on themselves," Johnson said.

"Chris had a silly penalty and a couple of other things as well that, we had a chat to him about it as we did with about four or five other players. The best things was that the guys already had their hands up before we had even said anything about the errors they had made."

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