Chris Ashton: Happy to have mojo back thanks to the support of Stuart Lancaster

Revitalised England wing says he is 'back to my old self' and fired up to face Australia

Not so very long ago, Chris Ashton found himself at serious risk of experiencing the Tuesday Night Torment – the lonely drive home from the England camp in Surrey made by those players declared surplus to requirements ahead of a red-rose international at Twickenham. By his own admission, the Saracens wing went through a miserable spell in the second half of last season, to the point where he was genuinely surprised by the national coach Stuart Lancaster's decision to retain his services.

"You end up thinking so much about what is happening to your form that you go into a downward spiral," he said. "The more you try, the worse it gets – and the more frustrated you become.

"At the start, I wasn't too sure the coaches were right in what they were saying to me about the way I was playing. That kind of thing can be hard to take. But I came to realise that they were right, and that I was really lucky to stay in the team. I have to thank Stuart for keeping the faith, because towards the end of the Six Nations there were times when I thought I might be dropped."

Ashton started the 2012-13 campaign as a candidate for a Lions Test place in Australia, but it dawned on him as the Six Nations unfolded that he had blown his chances sky high. Tries were desperately hard to come by – even the trademark broken-field runs that at least threatened to end in a score were rarer than rocking-horse droppings – and defensively, he was all over the place.

Lancaster and company decided he should have the summer off rather than undertake England's three-match trip to South America, mentioning that he might like to spend some time improving his kick-chase routine and beef up his tackling. It was a sound call, even though he found it "horrible" taking his holidays while his peers were still at work. "It took me a while to let it go," he admitted.

"I understand now where I was going wrong and I feel more confident, more relaxed," Ashton continued. "I'm back to my old self again." Which is welcome news for England, who would like nothing better than to see him tear off into the distance and put a long-range try past the Wallabies at the weekend – the kind of try that illuminated Twickenham on Australia day three years ago.

"That seems like ages ago," he remarked. "I don't really think about it, although there's always someone coming up to me in the street and telling me: 'I was there; I remember that score.' I'd like it if a try like that came along every week, but I know it won't."

There is every chance that Ashton will spend the lion's share of this meeting with the Wallabies standing next to Joel Tomkins, his Saracens clubmate and a prime candidate to make his international debut as Manu Tuilagi's replacement at outside centre. The two men go back a long way, having played rugby league against each other as small children, joined sporting forces at secondary school and teamed up at Wigan before heeding the union call.

"I went all the way through school with Joel," the wing said. "I remember us running around when we were six or seven and I played with him from the age of 11. If anyone had said a few years ago that we'd play rugby union for England together, I'd have offered long odds on it happening. Back then it never entered our heads that we'd move to union, so it's brilliant that he's put himself in a position to challenge for a place. It's pretty strange, all this, but it's a good kind of strange."

The way he sees it, this set-to with an Australian side in a deep state of flux is the perfect opportunity to "put down a marker" following the crushing disappointment of the Grand Slam game in Cardiff back in March – the last time a full-strength England side took the field. Is he nervous, building towards a game in which he has so much to prove individually as part of a side asking so much of themselves collectively? "Not really," he said with a shrug. "But I'm sure I'll be feeling it just before kick-off."

Another wing whose ambitions on the Lions front were ultimately unfulfilled, Tim Visser of Scotland, finds himself in far bleaker circumstances than the rejuvenated Ashton. Visser suffered a fractured shin – hardly the best of injuries for a wide runner – while playing for Edinburgh against the Italian side Treviso at Murrayfield five days ago and will not play again this year. He may even struggle to feature in the Six Nations Championship, which begins in February. Further medical examinations revealed additional damage to ankle ligaments, which will require surgery.

England blow as concussion rules out Parling

Geoff Parling, the Lions Test lock from Leicester and one of England's senior forwards, was concussed during this afternoon's training session at the team base near Bagshot and will miss this weekend's opening autumn international against Australia at Twickenham. It is a heavy blow for Stuart Lancaster's team: Parling runs the line-out and has become an influential team member since his debut last year.

Geoff Parling suffered a concussion during training (Getty) Geoff Parling suffered a concussion during training (Getty)
This unfortunate development leaves Joe Launchbury of Wasps, Dave Attwood of Bath and the in-form Courtney Lawes of Northampton fighting for two engine-room places. The rest of the pack picks itself, with Billy Vunipola of Saracens expected to beat Ben Morgan of Gloucester to the No 8 shirt and join his brother, the loose-head prop Mako, in the starting XV.

Outside the scrum, the decision to send the uncapped Gloucester centre Henry Trinder back to Kingsholm guarantees an international debut for the Saracens midfielder Joel Tomkins. Another Sarries player, Alex Goode, has also been released and therefore loses his place at full-back. The Harlequins scrum-half Danny Care has also suffered a fall from grace, with Ben Youngs and Lee Dickson contesting the No 9 role.

Chris Hewett

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot