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Ashton learns from team example

Chris Ashton hopes to take a leaf out of Saracens' book to rebuild his England career.

The 26-year-old hailed Saracens' pragmatic ability to grind out performances even when struggling with form.

Ashton believes that stubborn rigidity is what keeps Saracens at the sharp end of the Aviva Premiership, predicting an uphill struggle for Sale at Allianz Park on Saturday.

The former Wigan rugby league wing has previously admitted he was lucky not to be dropped by England boss Stuart Lancaster in the 2013 RBS 6 Nations.

But he has now pinpointed watching the British and Irish Lions tour on television as the moment he realised just how far his form had plummeted.

He said: "If it isn't sometimes going right for you, you've got to be able to do every little thing well.

"That's what the best players are good at.

"Even if they're not in a game they're still doing the small things well, and getting those right, and that's the bit I need to work on.

"Saracens as a team do that very well, and they have definitely helped me personally with that in the time I've been here.

"I kind of knew I was trying to force things during the Six Nations, not concentrating enough across the board.

"The sudden end to the season, Stuart Lancaster saying have a rest, that was when I realised.

"I was never anywhere near the Lions, and having to watch that, I think that was the point where I realised I had to improve points of my game.

"I feel a much better all-round player now."

Saracens are once again among the Premiership's early pace-setters, and Ashton does not expect that to change.

Ashton expects an abrasive challenge from a Sale side built in boss Steve Diamond's image but still backs Saracens to extend their strong home form.

He said: "It's ingrained in Saracens that once they get something they don't allow it to be taken away.

"Finishing top of the regular season table last year, you get used to seeing yourself there, so that's where we want to stay.

"Sale pretty much had to start again after a poor campaign last season.

"Most teams in that position end up going down, and have to spend that year rebuilding in the championship.

"They pulled themselves out of it in the end though, so that's given them the chance to push again in the Premiership."

London Irish stalwart wing Topsy Ojo hopes history will repeat itself in everything but the result on his 200th appearance for the Exiles.

Ojo scored on his debut for Irish against Wasps in Reading back in 2005, climbing off the bench to grab a try despite a 30-26 defeat.

The 28-year-old snubbed big-money offers from France to sign a new three-year contract with Irish this week that will extend his career at the club to 14 years, and now he wants to celebrate with a victory against Wasps at the Madejski Stadium on Saturday.

Ojo told the Exiles' official website: "I came on at half-time, and shortly afterwards Delon Armitage put a kick through for me, I caught it and touched down by the posts.

"It was quite a surreal start, and it's been great ever since.

"It's full circle, coming back for my 200th against Wasps, hopefully there is a similar performance and this time we get the result too."

Captain Dylan Hartley is fit to start for Northampton's trip to bottom club Worcester after missing last weekend's league victory over Newcastle.

The England hooker suffered a bruised lung in England's 30-22 Twickenham defeat to New Zealand on November 16, but is now ready to return.

"Every time something happens I come back stronger, hopefully," he told the Saints' official website.

"Maybe I get a bit more mature as I get a bit older.

"I'm expecting a proud team and a very dangerous Worcester, they don't want to be relegated: they are playing for jobs."

Horacio Agulla and Francois Louw return for Bath, who host Exeter Chiefs in a west country derby at the Recreation Ground.

Bath boast five victories and a draw in the six Premiership meetings between the sides, but Chiefs boss Rob Baxter is unfazed by the statistics.

Baxter told the club's official website: "I can imagine there are plenty of people out there who are wondering when we are going to beat them.

"I'm pretty confident we are a team that down the line will be involved in semi-finals, but it's about slowly progressing.

"It's the same with Bath; we've beaten every other team in the Premiership, and at some point we'll beat Bath too."


From Belfast Telegraph