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Page last updated at 18:31 GMT, Thursday, 18 March 2010

England reward Ashton persistence

RBS SIX NATIONS: France v England
Venue: Stade de France, Paris Date: Saturday, 20 March Kick-off: 1945 GMT
Coverage: Watch on BBC One, BBC HD channel, Red Button and BBC Sport website; full commentary on BBC Radio 5 live

Ashton not overawed to be starting in Paris

Chris Ashton will make his England Test debut against France on Saturday, just six months after almost quitting to return to rugby league.

The former England rugby league star left Wigan for Northampton in 2007 and starred as the Saints won promotion.

But he initially struggled in the top flight and said: "I expected to hit the ground running but that didn't happen.

"It shocked me a bit and knocked me back. At one point I was quite serious about moving back to rugby league."

The 22-year-old scored 39 tries in his debut season at Franklin's Gardens, but then found himself sidelined at Saints as Northampton coach Paul Grayson gave the winger time to find his feet.

And Ashton has responded with 19 tries in 25 matches for the Saints this season to become the Premiership's top scorer.


"I didn't think I would get this chance," said Ashton, who will come into the England team for injured Harlequins winger Ugo Monye.

"Grayson always said 'stick with it, your chance will come'.

"Thinking back to it now, it probably couldn't have worked out any better for me. I had the time to actually figure out this rugby union game and make it work."

Ironically, Ashton's England rugby league debut was also against France, at Headingley in the 2006 Federation Shield.

Saints full-back Ben Foden will also be making his first Test start for England.

Only Gloucester have scored more Premiership tries than Northampton this season and England manager Martin Johnson will be looking to the Saints pair to provide some much-needed inspiration.

I will play to my strengths and I know what Ashy is capable of if he gets a bit of space

Ben Foden

"Hopefully we can bring to England what we do at Northampton and that will create some tries," Ashton added.

Foden will make his first start after two impressive performances from the bench against Ireland and Scotland.

"I'm definitely ready for it," said 24-year-old Foden.

"It's a big stage to be on, taking on the Six Nations leaders who are going for a Grand Slam in their back garden.

"I'm relishing the chance to test myself in that situation.

"This is something I have been looking forward to all my rugby career. It is a massive opportunity. A lot of people are expecting big things from me and hopefully I can deliver.

"One of the reasons I'm in the team is for my running ability and my counter-attacking ability, so I'm not going to shy away from that."

And Foden also expects to dovetail effectively with Ashton, as they do for Saints.

"I will play to my strengths and I know what Ashy is capable of if he gets a bit of space," he added.

"We've had some good form together with Northampton so hopefully we can cause a bit of damage.

"They want us to counter-attack so hopefully I can do what I do best."

England team: Ben Foden (Northampton); Mark Cueto (Sale), Mike Tindall (Gloucester), Riki Flutey (Brive), Chris Ashton (Northampton); Toby Flood (Leicester), Danny Care (Harlequins); Tim Payne (Wasps), Dylan Hartley (Northampton), Dan Cole (Leicester), Simon Shaw (Wasps), Steve Borthwick (Saracens, capt), Joe Worsley (Wasps), Lewis Moody (Leicester), Nick Easter (Harlequins).
Replacements: Steve Thompson (Brive), David Wilson (Bath), Louis Deacon (Leicester), James Haskell (Stade Francais), Ben Youngs (Leicester), Jonny Wilkinson (Toulon), Mathew Tait (Sale).

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see also
England drop Wilkinson for Flood
17 Mar 10 |  Rugby Union
Poitrenaud accepts favourites tag
14 Mar 10 |  Rugby Union
Bastareaud returns to France team
16 Mar 10 |  Rugby Union
France 46-20 Italy
14 Mar 10 |  Rugby Union
Johnson rues lack of cutting edge
13 Mar 10 |  Rugby Union
Scotland 15-15 England
13 Mar 10 |  Rugby Union
Saxons coach backs Saints stars
15 Feb 10 |  Northampton
Ashton & Hape earn England calls
13 Jan 10 |  English
Ashton signs new Northampton deal
14 Jan 10 |  Northampton

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