IN less than four years he has transformed himself from rugby union novice into Martin Johnson’s most potent World Cup attacking weapon, and according to former cross-code success-story John Bentley – Chris Ashton’s stint in National One is the reason behind his success.
After earning an early release from his contract with Super League Wigan Warriors, Ashton joined Northampton in March 2007 but was forced to ply his trade in National One following the Saints’ shock Premiership relegation.
His made his debut as a late substitute against London Welsh and promptly scored with his first touch of the ball, before going on to break the divisional scoring record by touching down 39 times in only 25 National One appearances.
Ashton’s stock continued to rise as he was named Premiership player of the season in 2009/2010 after scoring 15 tries in 16 games, which led to his international debut against France in Paris in the Six Nations.
But according to Bentley, who was capped in both rugby union and league during his illustrious career, the watered-down introduction Ashton experienced with Northampton in National One has made him the player he is today.
“Being integrated into a National One side rather than a Premiership club certainly helped Chris Ashton,” said 1997 British Lion Bentley.
“I think it also greatly assisted him that he went into a very strong side but being given time to learn your new skill has unquestionably benefitted Ashton.
“League is very different to union, we’re not trying to say that everybody who plays rugby league can play rugby union because it’s not the case and visa versa, and they are very, very different sports.
“Life is about opportunities, and there are two things about opportunities, number one; identify it, and number two; take it. Chris Ashton has certainly done that.
“He’s got people around him who will be telling him not to fall in love with himself, he’s a confident player, and I’m looking forward to seeing him perform in the World Cup.
“Equally, as well, the opposition will have seen him perform and they will deal with that, because the preparations these days for how things are unbelievable.”
Despite Johnson not naming his 30-man squad until August 22, Bentley insists Ashton is a shoe-in to make the final-cut despite not featuring during his England’s warm-up preparations to-date.
England has a host of back-three options with the likes of Matt Banahan, Charlie Sharples, Delon Armitage, Ben Foden and Mark Cueto all battling for selection – but according to Bentley, Ashton stands out from the crowd.
“Rugby is a team sport that lends itself to individuals having special moments – Chris Ashton has had a number of special moments on big occasions and he’ll relish the opportunity at the World Cup, although it’ll be quite challenging,” added Bentley.
“Obviously Martin Johnson is about to name his World Cup squad, in terms of who he actually picks, I think Ashton will be amongst those names.
“It’ll be a huge challenge for them, I mean going down to New Zealand as well, and it’s going to be a tough call for a lot of the home unions but England do have some very talented players and Ashton is among those.”
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