Ashton out to repair reputation
January 29, 2012
Chris Ashton is determined to repair his battered reputation © Getty Images
Under-fire winger Chris Ashton has vowed to re-build his battered reputation by taking a starring role in England's Six Nations campaign.
Ashton lit up last year's Six Nations with his trademark swallow-dive and equalled the Championship try-scoring record as Martin Johnson's side captured the northern hemisphere crown for the first time since 2003. But along with the rest of the squad he fell from grace at the Rugby World Cup with the players' pride and commitment widely questioned in the wake of a string of embarrassing controversies.
A World Cup diary seemingly cashing in on an otherwise forgettable tournament and a ban for pulling Leicester winger Alesana Tuilagi's hair did little to improve Ashton's profile on his return to domestic matters and his decision to leave Northampton for big-spending Saracens earlier this month led to a training ground disagreement with Saints boss Jim Mallinder.
But as England prepare to open their campaign against Scotland at Murrayfield next Saturday, Ashton is determined to prove the critics wrong and rebuild his reputation on the field. "I am disappointed in the way I've been perceived," said Ashton, who admitted the last six months had left him bruised. "I have taken a lot of stick. With the dive and the book, maybe it came across to people that I'm just trying to make money out of everything that's moving. That was not my intention.
"There are a lot of things [I would have done differently]. The big thing for me is people's perception of me now. That's what I would try to change, definitely. At the time it's hard because you don't think you're doing anything.
"The dive was just something I did to celebrate scoring a try, it wasn't something where I thought 'I'll do this to make some money out of it'. I do look at it now and I realise there is a time and a place for it.
"Sometimes in the World Cup I got carried away with the moment. We weren't playing too well and it probably wasn't the best time to be doing it, I agree with that. But for people to say to me, 'it's all about ego' - I'm part of this team and I want it to do well.
"I can make amends for some of it and that is a motivation for me, going into this first game of the Six Nations. It's not just me, it's the whole thing. For the minute, England has been downgraded and as a team we have to change that. We have that opportunity and personally, for some people, you can change people's mindset as well."
Ashton decided on his return from the World Cup that he wanted to explore his options away from Northampton, the club that had brought him across from rugby league. When the move to Saracens was confirmed, Ashton was criticised for chasing the money and the bright lights of London - something he denies vigorously - and he was then dropped by Northampton.
"I'm sure that's what Northampton think, but it's not that at all," Ashton said. "It wasn't about money. Moving in England, there isn't going to be much change [financially] between the clubs. It's only a short career and I don't see why if there's a chance there, to go and try something new.
"There was a conversation between me and Jim. Every week he says we should talk to him if we've got any issues and that's exactly what I did. I didn't quite understand why I wasn't playing, they tried to explain that to me."
Having missed the Munster Heineken Cup game, Ashton does not know whether he will play again for Northampton. "I really hope so, it would be a real shame not to finish well for Northampton," he said. "Whatever I've managed to achieve, I owe most of it to them but I felt that maybe it was the right time to have a change and try something new.
"I'd like to think that I'm a jolly and upbeat person but to be made to seem arrogant and not care about your club, that's nowhere near where I want to be. I just want to play rugby and play well for the team I'm playing for. It's always been my aim and still is."
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