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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 March 2006, 08:41 GMT 09:41 UK
Ashton in call for positive rugby
By James Standley

Bath boss Brian Ashton
Ashton believes English rugby is hampered by conservatism

Bath boss Brian Ashton says English rugby union is being held back by a conservative mind-set.

"The more challenging the game you play, the more chance you have of winning if you get it right," Ashton told BBC Sport.

"The less negative manner you have, the more it should be to your advantage."

He believes the conservatism he describes is as much cultural as sporting, saying: "It's part of the Anglo-Saxon mentality."

World Cup star Will Greenwood said it had become much harder for teams to find space in international rugby because defences had improved so much.

The Harlequins centre told BBC Sport: "The game has changed completely. England stole a march in terms of defence; now everyone has caught up."

Greenwood, who won 55 caps for England, said it had become more difficult to find space in international rugby because defences had become so strong.

"People are getting bigger, faster, fitter and stronger and also there's much more time spent on defensive organisation, which means space is at a premium," he said.

"It is a very, very difficult situation to be in and working out how to find and create space is not something I envy the current coaching staff in any way, shape or form.

There is a pool of players around the English leagues that can help England be competitive at the very highest level
Will Greenwood
Former England centre

"It is an enormously difficult task and I'm not going to sit here and pass judgement on the current situation of how much time they're allowed to spend with the current first-choice England side."

Ashton was England assistant coach from 1998 to 2002 before moving on to become boss of the national academy.

England continued to base their game on forward domination and defence following their World Cup triumph but have failed to replicate their previous success.

Many Premiership matches are also sterile affairs, with fear of relegation frequently offered as a reason for the lack of excitement.

It is an argument Ashton vehemently dismisses.

"I've always thought that relegation is being used as an excuse," he said.

"You play the sort of rugby you think is going to bring results. It doesn't matter which end of the table you're at."

Will Greenwood
Greenwood has sympathy for England's coaches

Both Ashton and Greenwood are adamant that promising talent exists in England and that the right structure is in place to allow it to flourish.

"From the national academy point of view, I think it is. A lot of the guys who play there are playing for the England Under-19 and Under-21 teams," Ashton said.

"The under-21s won the Grand Slam and the under-19s have probably been the most creative England side of the season.

"It is just a question of transferring that (into senior rugby).

"That involves having a little freer mentality in the Premiership in terms of how the game should be approached and coached, and that doesn't seem to be there at the moment."

Greenwood agreed that the talent was there.

"There is a pool of players around the English leagues that, if chosen right, trained right and given the right amount of time, can help England be competitive at the very highest level," said the Harlequins centre.

I've worked at the very top level of the game and I do feel that I've got the ability to be able to contribute
Brian Ashton
Bath coach

"The ball's very much in our own court in terms of sorting it out."

The RFU is currently conducting a review of its performance in the international arena over the last 12 months.

Changes to England's coaching structure are expected and many have tipped Ashton to make a return.

He admitted: "I've worked at the very top level of the game and I do feel that I've got the ability to be able to contribute if I were called up to do so.

"But that's not been the case and whether it ever will be or not is just complete speculation - no-one's spoken to me about it at all."

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01 Nov 05 |  English
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27 Jan 05 |  Internationals


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