Chris Ashton will be a marked man warns Mark Cueto
Mark Cueto has warned Chris Ashton he must be prepared for life as a marked man - starting in England's crunch showdown with RBS 6 Nations title rivals France.
Ashton became the first England player to score four tries in one Five or Six Nations match since 1914 as England routed Italy 59-13 on Saturday.
The Northampton wing, who now has nine tries from his first nine Tests, was labelled afterwards by England manager Martin Johnson as a unique talent.
Six years ago Cueto made a similar impact on international rugby - but his feast of eight tries in eight Tests soon turned to famine as defences got wise.
"Teams start to target you and they will maybe throw extra defenders (at Ashton)," said Cueto, who ended an 18-Test try drought in the victory over Italy.
"Whenever you do your analysis on the teams you come up against you pick out the threats and without a shadow of a doubt, teams will be looking at Ashy.
"He has scored six tries in two games and is the out-and-out threat with England at the minute so he will be put under a lot of pressure."
But Cueto believes the unique way Ashton reads the game will still make him very difficult to stop.
"There is an art to what he does and it is unbelievable. He just anticipates everything," said Cueto.
"He will be tracking a play from 10 metres offside just in the hope that they will make a line-break and then he will be in that position.
"A lot of the times, if you are not offside, you are never going to be there.
"In the past, wingers have almost trailed the play from an onside position and if someone did make a line break, you are 10 metres behind the play and it is difficult to get there."
Even if France do target Ashton, Cueto believes that can only benefit an England side which, for the first time in a long time, boasts attacking threats across the field.
"It is not a case of shutting Ashy down and we stop winning. If you throw two men at Ashy then there is going to be a gap somewhere else and someone else will exploit it," Cueto said.
"Shontayne Hape and Mike Tindall in the middle were looking strong and busting through tackles and Ben Foden at the back is unsung at the minute.
"He is doing some great work and unfortunately not getting over the try line, a bit similar to myself (in recent games).
"We have people like Ben Youngs and Toby Flood at nine and 10 - I could go through the whole team and talk about threats."
Given Ashton was on the brink of quitting rugby union altogether just 18 months ago it has been a remarkable rise, quicker and more impressive even than Johnson could have hoped for.
Ashton, who moved from Wigan to Northampton in 2007, has brought a new dimension to England's attacking game since making his debut against France last season.
And Johnson compared his impact over the last 12 months to England's only previous unqualified cross-code success story.
"Chris is a bit different. When Jason Robinson came into the team he was different in how he played and Chris is different again," Johnson said.
"We need finishers. They make the difference in games. Chris is enjoying what he does but underneath that he does work hard, he is conscientious and he wants to be a very good player.
"The world is very, very quick now. At the start of last season Chris wasn't sure of a place in the Northampton team and he was playing for England by the end of it.
"When you think where he is now, we are very pleased with his progress. I don't think anyone could have definitely said he would be where he is now."
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