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Page last updated at 06:37 GMT, Thursday, 24 February 2011

Chris Ashton rewriting union wing play, says Radlinski

Ashton runs riot with four tries against Italy

England winger Chris Ashton has been ripping up the play book as he scores tries for fun in the Six Nations. Ex-Great Britain rugby league star Kris Radlinski, a former Wigan RL team-mate, tells the BBC just what makes Ashton so special.

Hear the full interview in Matt Dawson's 5 live rugby on Thursday at 2100 GMT.

I am really enjoying watching England wing Chris Ashton play - and he is certainly enjoying what he is doing since he switched codes from league to union.

You also have to give England manager Martin Johnson credit for that. He is not trying to turn ex-Wigan Warrior Ashton into a stereotypical rugby union player. Johnson sees something different in him and is giving him the freedom to go out and express himself on the field.

And I still see complete rugby league in the Northampton man - I see a rugby league player playing rugby union. All the characteristics in Ashton's game are rugby league-based.

That is why it is proving so difficult for opposing teams to cancel him out. He is running lines that are not usually run in union.

He is putting himself in positions which are completely out of position for a union winger. He knows there are gaps up the middle and he is anticipating the play two or three phases in advance and that is what league is all about, putting yourself where you think the opportunities are going to come.

We need to give Ashton credit for his understanding of the game, he knows where the breaks are going to come and which players to support. He might even know which hand the guy is carrying the ball in and which side that player prefers to offload - this is the attention to detail Ashton brings.

Ashton plays down expectations

He understands the game, his team-mates and his opponents - and particularly his opponents' defensive weaknesses.

Players just don't score four tries at Twickenham! By doing that against Italy, Ashton has showed he can meet the highest standards and do it at the highest level.

In the next few years, rugby union wingers will be emulating what Ashton is doing. They will cotton on and start to copy him. And defences will have to change their strategy to nullify it.

They will have to start paying attention to wingers who are chancing it up the middle because if they don't, the opportunities are there. If defences do not address the things Ashton is doing, he will continue to carve teams up.

Another thing about Ashton is his conditioning, which enables him to put himself in these positions and then get back again to where he needs to be - he is a fit athlete and a quick athlete. He is a tremendously fit bloke.

He is rewriting the way things will be done in rugby union for years to come. It is a pretty big statement but I believe it to be true.

A lot has been said about Ashton's personality and his character and confidence. But it's also important to realise that his support group now have a huge job to do. They need to guide him and protect him from distractions that are out there.

After bursting on to the scene last November to light up English rugby union, he has scored six tries in his last two internationals.

Ashton is now a well-known name and he needs some protection, he is only 23-years-old and he needs to be able to grow up and mature.

He can be whatever he wants to be in the game. It won't be easy, there will be a lot of challenges along the way for him. But I'm sure he will do it because he has so much confidence it is frightening.

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see also
Ashton defends try celebrations
17 Feb 11 |  English
Johnson hails Ashton's progress
14 Feb 11 |  English
Teams will target Ashton - Cueto
13 Feb 11 |  English
England 59-13 Italy
12 Feb 11 |  Rugby Union
Ashton rebuked after England win
09 Feb 11 |  Rugby Union
Wales 19-26 England
04 Feb 11 |  Rugby Union

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