England wing Chris Ashton has admitted he was intent on proving a point to himself in the aftermath of this season’s RBS Six Nations Championship.
While England went within one victory of securing a first Six Nations Grand Slam since 2003, winning four successive games before Wales beat them in record-breaking fashion at the Millennium Stadium, Ashton struggled for form. He was exposed defensively by France and Wales, while his only try in the tournament came against opening opponents Scotland.
But the 26-year-old appears to be recapturing some of his spark, underlined by a try-scoring performance as Saracens secured Heineken Cup semi-final status through a 27-16 triumph against last season’s runners-up Ulster at Twickenham on Saturday. “I wanted to come straight back in and I wanted to play and prove a point to myself more than anything,” said Ashton, who has helped Saracens to successive wins against Harlequins, Wasps and Ulster since returning from international duty.
“The past few weeks have gone well. People in the team are providing space and backing me, and that’s all you need sometimes.
“It gives you confidence. Sometimes you have got to realise that opportunities in games are few and far between, but I got a try last week and one this week, so I hope it can carry on.
“The more I play with this team, the more you understand each other and get those little connections.”
Ashton’s second-half touchdown – complete with his trademark celebratory dive – confirmed Saracens’ place in the last four of European rugby’s blue riband club competition for the first time since 2008.
In Saturday’s other quarter- final, former Scotland lock Nathan Hines helped favourites Clermont-Auvergne rack up their 59th straight home win, beating Johnnie Beattie’s Montpellier 36-14. Clermont will now face Munster, ironically in Montpellier.