Ashton's frenetic finish boosts England claim

Northampton 24 London Irish 22
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The Independent Online

Chris Ashton reinforced his claims for an England call-up with the last-gasp winning try as Northampton beat London Irish to move second in the Premiership table.

England coaches Brian Smith and John Wells were both at Franklin's Gardens on Saturday to witness Ashton take his try-scoring tally to an eye-catching 15 from 16 games this season.

England's wing options are plentiful with Ugo Monye, Mark Cueto, David Strettle and Matt Banahan plus the versatile Mathew Tait already part of the set-up.

But the Saints coach, Jim Mallinder, believes Smith and Wells could not have failed to be impressed by Ashton's strike rate and his nose for an opportunity.

"Chris is a natural finisher whose game is improving at this level with every outing. He got one chance and scored in front of the England coaches," said Mallinder. "It was always going to be a tight game and a tough one so I am very pleased to come away with four points."

The Saints had led early in the second half after two Stephen Myler penalties and a try from flanker Phil Dowson before Irish surged two scores clear following an intercept try from Peter Hewat. But Myler's penalties kept Saints in touch before Ashton appeared on Shane Geraghty's shoulder to turn the game on its head.

"We kept him quiet until the last 20 seconds, but that is the sign of a genuine finisher, one chance, one try," said Exiles boss Toby Booth. "There are a lot of similarities between the teams, both like to play positively, with width and tempo. And when you have a lad like Ashton you can always turn things round."

Ashton dismissed suggestions after the game that he failed to ground the match-winning try.

He said: "I definitely grounded it. I wasn't going to let that ball go, although it bounced upwards off my chest and not forwards.

"Scoring tries means everything to me. I'm working on my all-round game including my kicking, but wings must score tries."

Scorers: Northampton: Tries Dowson, Ashton Conversion Geraghty Penalties Myler 3, Geraghty. London Irish: Try Hewat Conversion Malone Penalty Malone 4 Drop-goal Malone

Northampton: Foden; Ashton, Clarke, Downey, Diggin (Mayor (68); Myler (Geraghty, 66), Dickson; Tonga'uiha, Hartley (capt), Murray, I Fernandez Lobbe (Best, 54), Kruger, Lawes, Dowson, Wilson.

London Irish: D Armitage; Homer, Seveali'i, Mapusua, Hewat; Malone, Hodgson; Dermody (Murphy 54), Paice, Ion (Rautenbach, 54), Kennedy, Casey (Perry, 78), Roche, S Armitage, Hala'Ufia.

Referee: S Davey (RFU).