It seems that the international career of Chris Ashton will now not include any British and Irish Lions caps, following the ban for 13 weeks he has received for a serious citing involving the biting of another player.
Whilst Ashton was exonerated by the disciplinary hearing of a second charge of biting one was substantiated and comes with a fairly hefty penalty tariff.
Saracens’ director of rugby Mark McCall confirmed that Saracens accept the decision and will not appeal the ban: “The club has been fully supportive of Chris throughout this process and we are naturally disappointed to lose a player of his calibre for 13 weeks. We put forward what we thought was a strong case for both charges to be dismissed but the decision to suspend Chris is one that we accept. No appeal will be lodged”. Given Ashton’s previous bans an appeal would have to be against an extraordinary decision, given the wingers’ track record has lead him to often be in front of disciplinary panels, and also often on the wrong side of the decision they have dished out.
Following the Saracen winger missing the 2016 Six Nations tournament because of another ban, and then his own decision to snub a rehabilitation period in the England Saxons tour during the summer, a run in the Autumn internationals was an important step to becoming a regular in Eddie Jones’ England squad.
Jones will probably continue with his initial Six Nations choices who have served him well. Nowell is a proven finisher. Watson has power and pace to match some of the larger wingers being played by international opponents like George North. Marland Yarde’s pace is blistering and can also match most of the opponents England will play, at least in the Northern hemisphere.
It is likely that it was always going to require other players to become unavailable to prompt an Ashton call up, but his track record of disciplinary issues combined with inconsistency at the highest level will probably cause Jones to look elsewhere should the circumstances require it.
The problem with Ashton’s game for England has not always been his poor defence, and in this regard it is not a lack of physicality or commitment, but as with his disciplinary incidents, his decision making.
The best wingers don’t only feature on the plus side of the points tally, they make a real contribution in negating their opponents.
Ashton been a good club servant in teams which are not always challenged hard throughout the season, playing for clubs featuring regularly in the top four (Northampton Saints and Saracens). He has also benefitted from playing in teams with strong defensive centre pairings. This has left him less exposed out wide. At an international level he has been found wanting, and it is likely Jones is prepared to take the risk Lancaster was.
Saracens have replaced Ashton in the number 14 shirt with Mike Ellery and you can bet on live rugby union matches at William Hill, and the less well known Ellery may be of interest to punters looking for an opportunity to back the premiership favourites.