Six Nations: Chris Ashton insists England culture has changed

'We’re here to play rugby, to be on the back pages, not the front pages'

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The Independent Online

Chris Ashton insisted that the current England squad have learnt from their mistakes, following revelations about Warren Gatland’s concerns that some England players “could be targeted” ahead of the British and Irish Lions tour to Australia. Following head coach Stuart Lancaster’s comments yesterday about the change in mentality within the squad, Ashton has spoken of the mistakes in 2011, and how they have learnt from them.

Gatland expressed his uneasiness at the media “circus” that followed Martin Johnson’s squad in New Zealand, in relation to the infamous drunken night out at Queenstown’s Altitude bar as well as an incident involving a complaint from a Dunedin hotel worker in which players were ordered to apologise for their actions.

Ashton was involved in both ordeals, but he insists that the culture of English rugby has changed, and that there is no longer a need to worry about a reoccurrence of the predicament the players found themselves in.

“I understand why people might think that (about English players) from what happened then (at the World Cup) but it’s completely different here now,” Ashton said. “ The people who were around then have learned their lessons from that and the people who weren’t there know the consequences if you get involved or caught out in the way we did, so I don’t think there’ll ever be a repeat of that.

“At the time, it was a mistake and we didn’t intend it to happen,” the 25-year-old continued. “We didn’t do it on purpose but sometimes it takes mistakes like that for you to learn and luckily the guys who have come into the squad have seen those mistakes we made. Speaking from experience, I won’t be getting caught out again like I was last time.”

The former rugby league convert maintains his innocence during the campaign, but he admitted on his return from New Zealand that the players were naïve to put themselves in vulnerable situations.

“It was a given that it wasn’t acceptable to get yourself caught out like that, to put yourselves in those positions,” the Saracens wing explained. “We’re here to play rugby, to be on the back pages, not the front pages. That’s how it’s been since (the World Cup).”

Lancaster agreed with Ashton, expressing his “trust” in his current squad, and that he sees no reason to worry about their behaviour in public. He said: “I would trust the players 100%. When I watch them interact with members of the public I never see something that I think is inappropriate behaviour. It’s good we’ve got an active interest from the media and we can show the values of our team.”