Gustard praises Ashton's 'wolfness'
April 3, 2013
Chris Ashton celebrates his try against Wasps © PA Photos
Ashton's form has come in for criticism of late following a Six Nations where he returned just one try from five matches while his defensive capabilities also came under scrutiny. But Ashton crossed for Saracens at the weekend against Wasps and ahead of their Heineken Cup quarter-final showdown with Ulster at Twickenham on Saturday, Gustard has backed Ashton to prove the doubters wrong.
"Chris is not a bad defender. Occasionally he misses a tackle but so what, everyone does," Gustard told the Guardian. "You can either focus on somebody's negatives or their positives. Over the last two weeks Chris has performed really well for Saracens. A year ago he was a world-class winger and a shoo-in for the Lions.
"He had an unbelievable try-scoring record for Northampton and scored a few tries for us at the start of the season. He gives us something different and he's a threat, even if the tries have dried up for a month or two. He's still an unbelievably dangerous player. He has more to his armoury than just scoring tries."
Part of Saracens' training ethos revolves around their 'wolf pack' which focuses on their defence. Those players who put in the most dominant showing in that facet of the game are rewarded. Saracens fly-half Charlie Hodgson's defensive skills, like Ashton, have come in for previous criticism but Gustard is quick to support the No.10 like he did with the winger.
"Charlie had a bad defensive reputation before he came to Saracens but the stats show he's our third highest tackler. We've got a 'Wolf Board' listing our best defenders and Ashy's name is there this week. Your 'Wolfness' relates to your ability to knock somebody down and Chris was high up. At this club you'll never be vilified for a mistake, only a lack of effort."
Saracens have been in superb form recently and picked up wins over Harlequins and Wasps to cement their place at the top of the Aviva Premiership table. Central to this has been the 'wolf pack' philosophy and Gustard emphasised this by bringing two wolves into training.
"I wanted to give a meaning behind it and a heartbeat and a soul," Gustard told the Telegraph. "The wolf pack idea was something different and represented our mentality -- we have to hunt, we have to get ¬people and when we get there, we have to be savage. It epitomises everything.
"We had a team meeting with live wolves in it in Allianz Park before the Harlequins game. You want people to remember things. They hear me for 50 weeks of the year and I do two or three presentations a week on different things. You want something to stand out at times and it was the first opportunity post the Six Nations to get everyone back into the groove and doing what we want.
"Alex Sanderson arranged for the wolves to come in. It was the toughest thing to organise. The wolves had their own itinerary. They were upstairs, they were in the changing room with the boys and on the pitch."
© PA Photos
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