Ashton Will Play through Pain Barrier; SAVAGED BUT STILL STANDING; EXCLUSIVE

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NORTHAMPTON'S danger man Chris Ashton will break through the pain barrier in his quest to deny Leinster a second Heineken Cup triumph.

The prolific try-scoring English wing will have exploratory surgery on a knee injury next week, just four days after the European final showdown with the Blues.

The 24-year-old Northampton player will play his last game of the season on Saturday when the Saints attempt to win the Heineken Cup for a second time by beating Joe Schmidt's side in the final at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.

Four days later, the cross-code sensation -- who has touched down nine times in 12 Tests to date -- will undergo an operation on his left knee, with the aim of being back in prime condition for England's World Cup warm-up matches.

Ashton is hoping that the procedure will be routine, but he admitted to Sportsmail yesterday that the full extent of the damage won't be known until the joint is opened up. 'I've got to have an operation on my knee, next Wednesday,' he said. 'I think it's just a clean-up job, well, hopefully there's not too much to it. It's the inside of it which is hanging on a bit, so it needs cleaning up. But I don't think they'll know exactly what's needed until they go in there.' Ashton surged to wider prominence earlier this year with six tries in England's first two Six Nations games and a flamboyant, swallowdive scoring routine which became a talking point far beyond the boundaries of his sport.

Ironically, sudden concerns about the state of Ashton's knee come at a time when his face is bearing the scars caused by Leicester centre Manu Tuilagi's flailing fists at Welford Road, in last Saturday's Aviva Premiership semi-final. …