Belfast Telegraph

Friday 28 November 2014

Ashton happy to be a union man

Chris Ashton has no regrets over his decision to switch codes
Chris Ashton has no regrets over his decision to switch codes

England enter Saturday's final Test against New Zealand with the contrasting fortunes of their converted rugby league contingent demonstrating the uncertainty that comes with switching codes.

Two days after Joel Tomkins confirmed his return to Wigan, bruised by his failure in the Red Rose jersey, Chris Ashton will end his brief but high-profile international exile against the All Blacks at the Waikato Stadium.

Alongside Ashton will be another league threequarter in Kyle Eastmond, whose performance in the first Test demanded his selection for the third ahead of the under-performing Billy Twelvetrees.

And looming as a rival to Eastmond is potentially the answer to England's ongoing midfield conundrum that has taken on greater complexity during the series - Sam Burgess.

Ashton has been the most successful English player to swap codes since Jason Robinson, but even he has suffered and triumphed in equal measure.

"I'm really happy I made the decision to come across. I've never looked back on it," Ashton said.

"There are times I have doubted it of course, but you probably do that in every job. I'm glad I stuck with it and happy to be playing rugby union.

"Joel's a little bit older. He had so much success in league and played it a little bit longer than me, whereas I was 20, just turning 21, so had more time to bed in.

"It's good to see Kyle here. He was an outstanding rugby league player as well.

"He has an unbelievable skill set that has yet to be shown in union. When he gets more experience he'll be one hell of a threat."

While question marks hung over Ashton, Tomkins and Eastmond when they headed south, Burgess' arrival at Bath from the South Sydney Rabbitohs in the autumn is being viewed with far greater certainty.

Ashton is among those who believes the 25-year-old, a possibility for England's 2015 World Cup squad, will flourish.

"Sam's an exception. If you watch him play league, he's the best player on the pitch every single time," Ashton said.

"There aren't many players like that - he's up there with Sonny Bill Williams and people like that.

"I'm sure he's getting the help he needs now, but he's such a natural rugby player he'll make things happen.

"He won't take much bedding in time because his size and the threat he poses in league make him a completely different kettle of fish."

England's more immediate focus than a successful transition by Burgess will be hoping Ashton has rediscovered the clinical edge that illuminated the first half of his international career.

Saturday's climax to the series at the Waikato Stadium will be his Test first start since the autumn and comes after a fine end to the season at Saracens.

The 27-year-old was axed for the entire RBS 6 Nations but made a try-scoring return as a replacement in last weekend's 28-27 series-conceding defeat in Dunedin.

"I've tried to not think about England too much and just focus on Saracens. That probably helped me relax a little bit and play the way I wanted to play," he said.

"I started enjoying rugby again. You sometimes lose that enjoyment a little bit when you try too hard, even when that's the reason you play rugby."

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