Chris Ashton: 'I definitely prefer union to league now'

He's cracked both codes but can Ashton hammer Scots today?

You can take the boy out of rugby league but the second half of that saying is proving more difficult. Chris Ashton is on the cusp of a Six Nations record, hoping to add to his six tries in the Championship when he plays for England at home to Scotland today, but he might have nabbed it already if things had worked out differently on the same Twickenham pitch a fortnight ago.

The chances came against France: one of them with 10 minutes remaining and the opportunity at 17-9 up to put the opposition away. Ashton had Vincent Clerc, the acting French full-back, where any wing would want him; a step off the left foot and surelyAshton would be away? Instead he tried to find Mark Cueto and a pug-ugly pass was intercepted. "Yeah, Cuetes is too slow," Ashton begins, going into his stock mickey-taking of his fellow Northerner and England wing, seven years his elder. "Or maybe I should have slowed up for Danny Care to catch me." Yes, yes, what was really going on? "If I was in that position again," Ashton says, "I don't think I'd go myself. It's not in me to do it. Well, it is, in one sense, but not if I know people are around me and I can make it an easier try. It's something that's been drilled into me from being a kid. In rugby league if you make a break, and there's a full-back, you make a pass, that's just what you do. I've only noticed since coming to union that a lot of lads don't do that."

England won anyway and what Ashton rejects is that the publicity leading in to the match – driven by his tries against Wales and Italy that left him two short of the Championship best set by Cyril Lowe and Ian Smith before the war – had made him take a less individualistic course; even more so, perhaps, because 25 minutes before the Clerc incident he had performed his swallow dive without realising the referee's whistle had blown. Ashton has begun a newspaper column, there is a book deal in the offing and he's had his teeth done. "It's not gone too mad," he insists. "There's nothing distracting me from rugby, and nothing will."

The exciting truth is that there is so much more Ashton might do. After four seasons at Northampton – the second one spent mostly in their second team – since he left Wigan in rugby league, he is still new to union's international scene: 11 months, 10 caps, nine tries. He has never taken on Scotland at anything – "the closest I've come is for Northampton against Edinburgh at Murrayfield," he says – and the same goes for Ireland, against whom England finish the Six Nations in Dublin next Saturday. As it happens, Ashton has some Irish blood but it runs a clear third to his late dad's background from Wigan and his mum's as a Liverpudlian.

When Ashton had laughed in Wales about receiving a "rollicking" from Martin Johnson for his risky try-scoring dive, I'd wondered at his Paul Gascoigne-style daft-as-a-brushness. But he is more Peter Kay, really, if a comparison with a Boltonian is not upsetting for a Wiganer. "Mum's Scouse accent comes on strong when she's on the phone to my aunties and uncles," Ashton says. "She'd count herself a little bit Irish but she's Scouse – or maybe half-Wigan, she's lived there that long. I only had one grandmother, the other grandparents were gone before I got here. Though that's changing now, isn't it? We're living longer. That's why they're screwing us on the pensions, ha ha. I had a grandad who played Gaelic football. Or it might have been a great grandad. He was quite good." Ashton has a pet dog, Henry. What breed is it? "A bulldog." As English as it gets, then? "That was the whole point of it," he says.

The England team hotel is posher than Wigan, or almost anywhere. A five-minute drive takes you past the grand gates of Wentworth Golf Club and gleaming showrooms for Rolls Royce, Maserati and Ferrari. The sort of lifestyle Ashton had as a kid? "Not coming to five-star hotels like this," he says. "It was always 'load up the car and off to France or up to the Lake District'. Rugby wise, we got treated well at Wigan, don't get me wrong. But this is another level. I don't want to take it for granted or it might get taken away from me quickly."

Nevertheless, he feels settled. "I came in to the England squad a few weeks before I made my debut so it did happen slowly. But it's just getting better and better. If you'd seen us in training this week, we looked like we've been playing together for a few years, not one year. We all know what we're doing." A settled back line – Toby Flood, Shontayne Hape, Mike Tindall, Ben Foden and Mark Cueto have started eight of Ashton's 10 Tests with him – has helped. "Winning helps too," Ashton says. "It has a massive effect on your attitude to everything."

There have been losses of course. The All Blacks ran in two tries on Ashton's wing and the Springboks saw nothing of him after he was dazed by a bump on the head. Undoubtedlythere is plenty for Ashton to work on. Simon Danielli, the Scotland wing, attempted to divert the Tartan press and their swallow-dive bandwagon by suggesting Ashton leaves defensive gaps when he tracks the attack. Ashton dismisses that notion but he says: "Scotland have a point to prove after three defeats and there'd be no better place for them to do it than at Twickenham. We're not bothered about expectations, we just want to play well. Against France it was a slow game and the backs didn't get into it. We want to turn that around."

And if the Wiganer reaches his 24th birthday a fortnight on Tuesday as a Grand Slam winner, it would be a fine finish to his first year of union Tests. "I definitely prefer union to league now," Ashton says. "There's so much more of a tactical side, more that can happen in a game. It's much better."

England versus Scotland is on BBC1 from 2.30pm today

Calcutta cuts

Go go go Calcutta

England 10 Scotland 8, March 1963

Three lovely dummies sold by Richard Sharp for an all-time great Twickenham try. Andy Hancock scored another belter against the Scots two years later.



So long ago Calcutta

England 12 Scotland 22, March 1983

Scotland's most recent win at Twickenham (above) and still their record score there. An England XV drawn from 13 clubs were well beaten and finished bottom of the Championship, one place below the Scots.



Slow Calcutta

England 24 Scotland 12, March 1995

'He's missed it!' shrieked Bill McLaren in astonishment as a kick by Rob Andrew slid past the posts, but the fly-half booted seven penalties and a drop to seal a Grand Slam and deny Scotland the same prize.



Low blow Calcutta

England 24 Scotland 21, Feb 1999

Tim Rodber and Martin Johnson gave John Leslie – one of Scotland's three 'kilted Kiwis' – a knee in the back and a foot on the throat. Jonny Wilkinson, on his first Championship start, tackled superbly.



Whoa-ho-ho Calcutta

England 43 Scotland 3, March 2001

Iain Balshaw glided to two tries in England's biggest win over the Scots. Ten years on, Balshaw is fine-tuning his speech as best man at Mike Tindall's Edinburgh wedding.

Caledonians crushed

Terrible at Twickenham: Scotland's woeful record

1983: England 12–22 Scotland 1985: England 10–7 Scotland

1987: England 21–12 Scotland

1989: England 12–12 Scotland

1991: England 21–12 Scotland

1993: England 26–12 Scotland

1995: England 24-12 Scotland

1997: England 41–13 Scotland

1999: England 24–21 Scotland

2001: England 43-3 Scotland

2003: England 40–9 Scotland

2005: England 43–22 Scotland

2007: England 42–20 Scotland

2009: England 26–12 Scotland

Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Life and Style
Mark's crab tarts are just the right size
food + drinkMark Hix cooks up some snacks that pack a punch
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all