Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Ashton Is Eager to Give England Fighting Chance

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Ashton Is Eager to Give England Fighting Chance

Article excerpt


BRIAN ASHTON chose the words of Muhammad Ali today as he attempted to convince a doubting rugby community that England could become the first team in history to successfully defend the World Cup next September.

Ashton, who will have 10 games as head coach to fashion a game plan before the tournament begins in France, said: "I am a realist and, as far as the World Cup is concerned, I like to quote Muhammad Ali who said: 'Defy the impossible and shock the world'."

The choice of Ali is significant because the American heavyweight was a stylish extrovert who carried a world championship winning knockout punch in either hand. Ashton's rugby teams have always been good to watch but the one big concern has been his ability to weld rapier backs together with the bludgeoning forwards needed to supply match-winning possession.

England, with Ashton as attack coach, got it wrong in the autumn internationals when Andy Robinson was still head coach and in charge of selection.

Now, Ashton has to prove he can put out an international team that can "float like a butterfly and sting like a bee".

Ashton will enjoy goodwill from all those involved in English rugby, even if it seems obvious that the 60-year-old is merely being used to get the team into the best possible shape in 2007 before a new team manager/director of rugby takes over after the World Cup.

That should be Nick Mallett, the former South African coach, or Harlequins director of rugby Dean Richards, but Ashton is ready for the challenge.

He said: "If I felt I couldn't handle the pressure, then I wouldn't be here.

It is key to make sure we do the foundations - scrums, line-outs and outplaying the opposition in the tackle area - correctly, because if you get that right then you start winning games.

"Once you get to the quarterfinals and semi-finals of a tournament like the World Cup, then anything can happen on the day. I know what the job is, I know what is expected, and it is obviously really important we start winning again. …

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