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Ashton launches rugby academy

Chris Ashton's blase teenage attitude to education has driven him to set up his own rugby academy.

The Saracens and England wing has teamed up with Virtual Learning UK to launch a two-year rugby union and education scholarship for 16 to 18-year-olds.

Ashton remembers throwing his A-Level results on the back seat of his car, driving straight to Wigan Warriors training and forgetting all about college.

The 26-year-old cannot quite believe how disinterested he was back then, and winces when admitting his teacher parents had to convince him to stay the course at Wigan's St John Rigby College.

Ashton has employed that hindsight benefit to launch the new venture, which will start across the country in September 2014.

"I didn't really attend college by the end of it, it was just something you fobbed off because you wanted to go and play rugby," he said.

"My parents were pretty realistic, they knew what I wanted.

"I was extremely fortunate to make the grade at Wigan, but for a lot of my friends in the academy it didn't happen.

"So when they were let go they had to either go back to school and start again, or seek to learn a trade.

"That is an extremely tough situation to handle.

"So this is the perfect chance to combine both, and hopefully allow young people to keep their options open."

The Chris Ashton Academy will run two-year courses combining top-level rugby coaching and a BTEC National Extended Diploma in Sport.

Applicants must have five GCSE grades A to C including Maths and English, while there are no specific selective rugby criteria.

The free courses will be set up at a host of centres nationwide depending on demand, with applications open at www.vluk.org/rugbyunionandeducation/

Ashton admits it was his deputy head teacher mum Angela who twisted his arm not to give up school altogether as his rugby career took flight.

"I studied Business, PE and IT," he said.

"I think I got two Ds and an E, but I don't know how.

"My attendance was something like 23 per cent!

"Now I am pleased I finished it.

"Saracens want everyone to get involved with some kind of learning, whether that's a degree or something else.

"I think you need to have those A-Levels to be able to do something at university, even though those grades aren't great.

"So I am glad I finished it all - and a lot of that was down to my mum to be honest.

"She was forcing me to go to exams and things.

"At the time I just got them and threw them in the back of the car.

"But now looking back I'm pleased I did it."

Ashton will host coaching sessions and workshops throughout the courses, and hopes he can act as mentor to young people facing big decisions about their future.

He said: "Sometimes parents aren't the people you want to hear it from are they?

"You need to hear it from someone else, and maybe hopefully I can have that influence on people, hearing it from a different person and perspective.

"I didn't really have a mentor, you start so young in League, it happens before you even know it.

"Then you're away playing every week, and you have no time for anyone else.

"My parents have been great, but as soon as the rugby kicked in that was it.

"Hopefully I can channel my experience and status perhaps for the right reasons, to help other people come through.

"It would be great if this can capture people's imagination, right across the country.

"I hope people see it as an opportunity to develop rugby as well as education.

"I hope to have the input and influence to help youngsters take big strides forward.

"People have a chance to be coached to a good standard, and maybe get into full-time rugby, and if not take that forward, then hopefully go to university."

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