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Chris Ashton reveals how he overcame missing England's Grand Slam triumph

Published 08/04/2016

Saracens wing Chris Ashton found it hard to watch England's Grand Slam success while he was suspended
Saracens wing Chris Ashton found it hard to watch England's Grand Slam success while he was suspended

Chris Ashton has revealed the only way he could come to terms with England's Grand Slam triumph was by convincing himself he would have been overlooked by Eddie Jones.

Ashton was ruled out of the entire RBS 6 Nations after receiving a 10-week ban for making contact with the eye area of Ulster centre Luke Marshall in January and his Saracens comeback finally came against Bath one week ago.

The suspension meant he was forced to watch England's march to the title as a peripheral figure for club and country, all the while knowing he had been pushing hard for a place in the starting XV after falling out of favour under the previous regime.

Mixed emotions flooded through the 29-year-old wing, who starts Saturday's Champions Cup quarter-final against Northampton, as the 13-year wait for a Grand Slam came to an end in Paris.

"I told myself it wouldn't have been me. That was the way I had to look at it - I had to hope I wouldn't have got picked," Ashton said.

"I approached it as though I probably would have gone home anyway and not played. That kind of helped me.

"I don't think it mattered whether I actually believed that or not, it's what I taught myself to help me sit and watch England win.

"It's an outstanding achievement for them to win the Grand Slam. Obviously I'd have liked to have been involved, but still it's nice to see England win it after so long. They definitely deserved it.

"The ban felt a little bit like it was my last chance gone. There was the change in coaches with Eddie Jones coming in and it felt like I had a real opportunity - to have that then taken away is difficult."

To help cope with the frustration and sense of grievance caused by the severity of a ban that resulted in his longest absence from the game, Ashton would complete wrestling sessions with one of Saracens' forwards coaches.

"I just got battered every week at wrestling, but I needed something extra. You do get frustrated. You miss Saturday or Sunday at 3pm," Ashton said.

"Every weekend you have that outlet and have something you're driven and focused on. If you haven't got that...I ended up down Tesco just ramming old ladies out of the way with my trolley."

A feeling that rugby's disciplinary process from citing to hearing has lost its way is not confined to Saracens, who on Tuesday saw their England lock George Kruis cleared of biting.

Forwards coach Alex Sanderson described the citing of Kruis as an "absolute travesty", while only World Rugby have come out of the Joe Marler "Gypsy boy" verbal abuse fiasco with credibility intact.

Ashton was partly a victim of the drive to eradicate any form of contact with the eye or eye area, whether accidental or malicious, and he believes the presence of a former player at hearings would offer a more balanced view of any incident.

"We'd all like to see someone who has experience of playing rugby in with the judges to give some sort of opinion on what is happening in any given situation," Ashton said.

"Right now we don't have anyone who can talk about being in a particular situation. Sometimes it's hard to explain something to someone who hasn't played to the level we're playing at.

"You need someone to speak from the playing side of it. It's hard to have an opinion on it if you haven't.

"It would make it easier to accept any decision and it also gives you a chance to explain how you feel to some who would understand it more, as opposed to it being just about the letter of the law."

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