Rugby Union: Trio do little to impress Ashton

Bristol 21 Wasps 38
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The Independent Online
Brian Ashton (remember him?) is spending two weeks in England keeping tabs on the large contingent of Anglo-Irish players and he will have difficulty remembering his visit to the Memorial Ground.

So far, the clubs in the Allied Dunbar Premiership have faced the music but there has been very little dancing. "Midfield play has become a neglected art," Ashton said. "Everything is structured and there is no freedom for the backs. It seems they no longer have the confidence to do their own thing. This was bloody awful."

When Ashton left Bath last season few coaches in England had a higher reputation. Indeed, he was so widely respected he was poached by Ireland to coach the national side. Ashton had comfortably filled the boots of Jack Rowell at Bath but nobody at the RFU thought of asking him to do a similar job with England. Would he have been interested had he been approached?

"I don't answer hypothetical questions," Ashton replied.

He was at Bristol on Saturday specifically to check on the form and fitness of Paul Burke, David Corkery and Rob Henderson. If the trio did not particularly fancy the idea of playing against New Zealand in Dublin on November 15 they went the right way about things.

Burke, the Bristol stand-off unfortunately lived up to his surname midway through the second half when Bristol, only five points behind, were going for the fly killer. From a terrific attacking position, Burke had several options but his short, flat pass, intended for Fraser Waters, was easily read by Nick Greenstock who scored under the posts at the opposite end.

Robert Jones, the Bristol captain, described it as a 14-point try. "To have to trundle back 80 yards when we were looking like scoring was heartbreaking," Jones said.

"Being off as relegation candidates has been motivational for us and we had a genuine belief we could win."

Since winning the championship last season Wasps have invested modestly in the transfer market. Their most conspicuous signing, the Lion Simon Shaw from Bristol, cost them nothing as he refused to sign a contract with the West Country club.

"With the introduction of nutritionists and a sports psychologist we are just trying to do everything slightly better," Rob Smith, the Wasps coach said.

"The game is becoming a bit like basketball in that when the opposition have the ball you almost expect them to score. In our first game against Sale last year we won in the last minute and got stronger as the season progressed. We'll do the same this time."

Wasps, who are now involved in the Heineken European Cup and will not be in premiership action till 19 October, were fortunate to have Gareth Rees on the bench. Although the Canadian full-back, who is built like a chip off the Rockies, does not appear to have met a nutritionist, he remains a prolific scorer.

Last season he scored 293 points and he kick-started Wasps' defence of the title with 20 points. In addition, Rees, who came on for the injured Jon Ufton, prevented Eben Rollitt from scoring at the posts, a job that might have been beyond the slightly-built Ufton.

As for Ashton, he saw little inspiration from Henderson, another who is built like a heavyweight, but he did not look match fit. Corkery at least showed he was fighting fit, exchanging blows with the New Zealander Mark Weedon before Steve Lander replaced the red mist with a yellow card.

"In New Zealand," Ashton, clutching a pint of the black stuff, said, "a stand-off throws a 20 yard pass and everybody runs into space.

"I don't know whether Bristol pay rent on their ground but if they do they should ask for a 50 per cent reduction. With the three-quarters bunched together only half of the pitch was in use. To illustrate this, what coaches need is a bird's eye view of the game."

Any hot air balloonists out there with a camera?

Bristol: Tries penalty try, Tiueti, Lewsey; Conversions Burke (3). Wasps: Tries Weedon, Greenstock, Logan, Rees; Conversions Rees (3); Penalties Ufton, Rees (3).

Bristol: J Lewsey; D Tiueti, F Waters, S Martin, B Breeze; P Burke, R Jones (capt); M Worsley, K Dunn, K Fulman, J Wakeford, C Eagle, D. Corkery, E Rollitt, R Collins. Replacements: Brownrigg for Wakeford, 68; Short for Corkery, 68.

Wasps: J Ufton; S Roiser, N Greenstock, R Henderson, K Logan, A King, A Gomarsall, D Molloy, S Mitchell, W Green, M Weedon, A Reed, L Dallaglio (capt), J Worsley, M White. Replacements: Rees for Ufton, 17; Sheasby for Worsley, 64; Cronin for Weedon, 64; Macer for Reed, 79.

Referee: S Lander (Wirral).