Ashton has 'no regrets' about past but looking forward to new chapter at Saracens
12:19 GMT, 12 July 2012
In the past 12 months, he has been criticised for his involvement in the World Cup ‘Dwarfgate’ scandal, banned for dragging Leicester player Alesana Tuilagi by his dreadlocks and outcast after deciding to leave Northampton.
But England rugby star Chris Ashton insists he has ‘no regrets’ as he prepares to open a new chapter in his career with Saracens.
For the first time since Ashton switched codes from League to Union five years ago, he will drive somewhere other than Franklin’s Gardens to start his preparations for the new Aviva Premiership campaign.
Fresh start: England and Saracens winger Chris Ashton is looking forward to starting the new season
But the move south represents more than a change of scenery for the winger – it also means a clean slate after a year of incident.
‘One of the main reasons why I decided to make this move is because I’m ready for a new challenge,’ he said. ‘Obviously it was a shame to leave Northampton after five very good years there but there comes a point in life and in your career where you have to look for something else.
‘Of course I have lots of friends at Northampton but it’s time to move on and move forward. I have no regrets over anything that’s happened.
‘I’m building up slowly for the new season. The pre-season training at Northampton used to pretty hardcore and I’m guessing that it’ll be the same at Saracens. It sounds strange considering how painful it can be, but I can’t wait to get started.’
Flying through the air: Ashton and his infamous swallow dive
He is a restless character both on and off the field. He grows frustrated when not living up to his prolific try-scoring form, as happened in the first few months of this year for both club and country.
He is also moving house for the sixth consecutive summer – the removal companies of Northamptonshire must be sorry to see him go.
And so will most of the club’s support. Fast and flamboyant, his scoring record for the Saints is outstanding – 92 tries in 110 appearances.
But the manner of his departure – fractious and unnecessarily drawn-out and public – clouded the view of some, who also found easy targets in his exhibitionist try celebration – the ‘Ash Splash’ – and his new book, which played down the incidents at the World Cup.
He was also banned for four weeks at an important juncture of the season for dragging Tuilagi off the field by his hair in the East Midlands Derby in December.
Club together: Ashton with his England and former Northampton teammates Dylan Hartley, Tom Woods and Ben Foden
Of course Ashton hasn’t relished the criticism fired his way over the last year and the new role at Saracens gives the 25-year-old an opportunity to show he has matured.
Creditable and increasingly confident performances by player and team on the recent England tour of South Africa showed a corner has been turned, with Ashton full of praise for coach Stuart Lancaster’s unifying presence.
‘It’s always going to be tough for any team touring South Africa but we grew in confidence as we went on and the final game ended in a draw when we were a drop goal away from getting a win.
‘I think as a group, we’ve moved on and under the new manager we’re learning new things all the time and improving.
‘Stuart has engaged the team and brought tremendous energy to the job, creating an ethos of everyone working together. He’s got us back on track.’
Winning feeling: Ashton with Ben Foden after winning the Calcutta Cup
Organised: Stuart Lancaster has got England playing again
It’s progress that England will seek to continue in a testing four-game series of Autumn Internationals at Twickenham, with Fiji, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa to play.
The summer series extended South Africa’s unbeaten sequence over England to ten matches, so unsurprisingly it’s the match on November 24 that has caught Ashton’s imagination.
He said: ‘We have this hoodoo with South Africa at the moment, but it’ll be better when we play them in England, in English conditions and in front of our own fans at Twickenham.
‘We’re all looking forward to them coming over in the autumn and getting one over on them. We’re looking towards the future with the young players that have been brought in, but there’s a great amount of experience mixed in there as well.’
Should Ashton repeat his field-length try against Australia from two years ago this time round, or score the winner to break the South African curse, it would surely be worthy of his trademark swallow dive celebration.
‘Well, I’ve vowed to stop doing it. People said I was showing off but if the occasion was right I might do it. Maybe in the World Cup final or something – though I don’t want to think of the reaction if I dropped the ball!’
Chris Ashton was speaking at the Tag 2 Twickenham Final supported by RFU and YAZOO milkshakes