Mallinder: Ashton still has part to play
January 23, 2012
Chris Ashton was dropped from the Saints squad for their match with Munster © Getty Images
Northampton Saints boss Jim Mallinder claims that winger Chris Ashton is still part of his plans despite the winger confirming he will join Saracens next season.
The Ashton-saga came to an end last week when Aviva Premiership champions Sarries announced his signing after weeks of speculation that the England winger's days at Franklin's Gardens were numbered. And amid rumours of a training ground bust-up with Saints boss Mallinder, Ashton found himself out of the squad for their Heineken Cup match with Munster on Saturday.
But Mallinder is adamant Ashton will still play a part for the Saints this season though has sounded a warning shot at the 24-year-old claiming that his place in the squad is far from guaranteed.
"Chris Ashton goes away now for the week," Mallinder told the Northampton Chronicle. "Hopefully he will get in the England side but that is up to the England coaches to decide. If he doesn't then he comes back to us and he fights for his place. If he does win a place then in eight weeks' time he comes back and once again he fights for his spot at Saints like everybody else."
And Mallinder has moved to quash rumours of unease behind the scenes at Franklin's Gardens claiming that Ashton's omission was a tactical one. "Like any player what you do for selection is sit down with the coaches and you talk about how the players are playing with their form," said Mallinder. "How they are doing during the week in terms of their physical and mental fitness.
"You look at the opposition and their strengths and weaknesses and then you look at the short, middle and long term in terms of the games coming up. You put those all into the ring and you come out with the 23 players who you think are the best players to represent the team."
The Saints were distinctly second best against Munster with the Ireland side running out 51-36 winners but Mallinder claims the players were not distracted by the Ashton factor. Mallinder said: "This was decided a long time ago and though Chris only came out with it this week, we have known for a long time that Chris wasn't going to be at Saints next year."
And the Saints have also confirmed that their chief sponsor Travis Perkins have extended their deal until 2016. The announcement cements the relationship as the longest between a club and main shirt sponsor in elite sport in the UK.
"The Saints and Travis Perkins have had a relationship for a very long time and the two brands are almost synonymous with each other," Saints chief executive Allan Robson said. "Having a bond like this is not just good for the Saints and Travis Perkins; it is good for Northampton as a whole.
"We are proud to represent the town on the highest stage of English and European rugby and also to carry the name of a Northampton-based company which is also the leading light nationally in its sector. Travis Perkins has supported us through good and bad times and their commitment during the dark days that came with our relegation was instrumental in both ensuring stability and in laying the foundations for the successes that have followed.
"Everyone at Franklin's Gardens is delighted that Travis Perkins will remain as our main sponsor for the next four years, and we're looking forward to this affiliation continuing long after 2016."
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