Johnno plays down Ashton celebration issue
February 17, 2011
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England manager Martin Johnson has given winger Chris Ashton the green light to continue with his showboating ways.
Ashton hit the headlines with a four-try haul against Italy on Saturday and caused a further stir with an extravagant swallow dive to finish off two of his scores despite being given a warning about it from the management. But Johnson has played down the issue and insists he has no desire to "stamp on people's personalities".
England's backs coach Brian Smith had shown the whole squad a video of former London Irish forward Juan Leguizamon, who dropped the ball over the line while attempting similar theatrics, in the wake of Ashton's two tries against Wales in their Six Nations opener. But just 124 seconds into the Italy game, Ashton was released by Toby Flood and he launched himself under the posts before repeating the trick with his final try of a record haul.
Ashton now has nine tries in nine Tests and has equalled the record of six tries in one Championship campaign currently held by England's Will Greenwood and Wales' Shane Williams. Johnson claimed he missed the first finish against Italy but he was laughing in the stands when Ashton wrapped up a 59-13 victory.
"We are not here to stamp on peoples' personalities," Johnson said. "He is a good guy to have in the group and he is playing fantastically well. We want him to keep it up. It is not a big issue for us.
"All that was said in the team review was: 'Get the ball down safely and if you can get it near the posts, get it near the posts'. Chris did that four times. I prefer him to get the ball down safely and he has done that.
"Underneath all the fun-guy stuff he is a pretty serious rugby player. I don't think he wants it to detract from what the team is doing, his team-mates are putting him in for some great opportunities. And I don't think he wants it to detract from what he is doing."
Ashton has made a remarkable impact since making his Test debut for England against France at the end of last year's Six Nations. But he has been on the receiving end of some banter from his England team-mates over the swallow dive.
"He's been told off enough times," said centre Shontayne Hape. "We all know that if he is going to score four tries he can do whatever he wants. I think Johnno only scored two tries in his whole career!
"Ashy's support play is second to none. He turns up at the right place at the right time. It something he's got nailed down. Nine times out of 10 he finishes the tries off. He's got a great record. If he keeps playing like that he'll be one of the best."
Ashton does not regret the dive - and it may well come out again in England's showdown with France a week on Saturday if his remarkable scoring streak continues."It is right to celebrate tries. Scoring tries is what I want to do playing rugby and I don't see why you shouldn't be able to celebrate in the way you want to," Ashton said.
"It's just something that happened and that's the end of it. Everybody dives, everybody scores tries the way they want to score tries. I just happened to do that and it has run away with itself a bit.
"My Mum is worried about me dropping the ball and if my Dad was here, he would be very unhappy about me doing the dive. Very, very unhappy. But if the chance comes again? I don't know, we will have to wait and see. It was just a spur-of-the-moment thing and that's how it will stay. As long as I get the ball down, they won't be too bothered."
Johnson confirmed today that Jonny Wilkinson has returned to play for Toulon this weekend after two appearances off the bench against Wales and Italy. A total of 18 players have been released for club action this weekend, including Andrew Sheridan who has recovered from the back injury that kept him out of the Italy game.
Alex Corbisiero, who made an impressive debut after being drafted into the side the day before the meeting with the Azzurri, has been made available for London Irish. Lewis Moody and Tom Croft are both expected to return to action this weekend after knee and shoulder injuries respectively - and both could come into the mix to face France a week on Saturday.
"Guys who have 70 caps and have played for 10 years have credits in the bank because you know the type of player who can perform off less of a base than a guy going into his fifth cap or first cap," said Johnson. "Ultimately, what trumps that doesn't change - we are here to win Test matches and what is our best team to win?
"The captaincy is one of the intangibles. Leadership is part of that. I understand (Moody) is going to be involved (for Bath). We will have to see where he is. Guys have played very well in the group. Everyone is desperate to play."
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