James Corrigan: Exuberant Ashton is a joy to watch – but his swallow dive deserves the boot
Ashton has to take note of the Italian reaction after his first try. At least one of theirnumber was visibly unhappy with his showboating
Monday 14 February 2011
The deeply paranoid among us fear there will be copycat spillers. Children all over England will attempt the "Ash Splash" and discover it's not nearly so easy as Chris Ashton makes out. They will fly over the line, arms stretched wide, ball cupped in one hand, face grimaced in glory. And so it will happen. Thud. Mud. Dud.
The recrimination would soon give way to hilarity and the schoolyard notoriety would be so cruel the mortified wing wannabe would walk away from the field forever. England rugby would have lost a future star, a future Ashton perhaps. All because of a daft celebration...
An apocalyptic scenario? The oval-ball equivalent of the Day After Tomorrow? The ramblings of an daydreaming idiot? Maybe. But there will doubtless be kids who, after watching his historic four-try demolition of Italy on Saturday, will attempt to emulate their new hero in more ways than merely making sure they are on the ball-carrier's shoulder. In fact, the example of all those Jonny-clones post 2003 showed that when it comes to imitation the physical trademark is obviously more important than the professional trademark.
So there were all these young lads, pencil legs sticking out of baggy shorts, standing over their kicking tees, hands clasped, bodies half-turned, raising their eyes to peer between the uprights, then lowering them again and tensing for the decisive action. And then they'd hit the corner flag. Blessedly, we can now tell that Toby Flood was one of the very few who copied the work ethic as well as the routine.
Of course, this mass outbreak of "doing the Wilko" essentially hurt nobody but all those poor parents forced to spend their Saturday mornings in the catatonic state of watching teenagers not moving; just standing there, like a chapel meeting at Madame Tussauds, waiting for the little oik to kick it. The "Ash Splash" may have more serious implications.
But the first question is whether a sportsman has any responsibility to set a good example, or even just to desist from setting a bad one. It was a query I asked myself while out watching Tiger Woods playing in Dubai last week. And while standing among the galleries heavily-populated with the under-10s and seeing him spitting after one wild shot and then shouting "fuck, fuck, fuck" after another, I came to the conclusion they probably do. Call it my "Eureka!" moment. To think the organisers paid him $3m for the privilege.
But then, Tiger Woods is Tiger Woods and is representative of very little that exists in reality. Ashton is different. Any over-exuberance on his part is completely understandable. What he should never care about is offending any of the blazers' sensitivities. They like to see their try-scorers touch down with the minimum of fuss, accept the pat on the back from the goal kicker after handing over the ball and then run immediately back to their own half. In their dusty old book, ecstasy should definitely not be the main part of it. But it is, as even the giggles of Martin Johnson signify. Anyone who can bring a smirk to that grisly countenance, let alone anything so euphoric as a laugh, clearly has the ability to spread the joy far and wide.
Yet what Ashton may want to guard himself against are the charges of being a sneerer, of belittling the opposition, of going airborne in the guise of saying "this is so bloody easy I'm even prepared to risk dropping the thing". There is a clear and present danger of that, which may be lost to him in that wave of jingo sweeping through his own country. Goodness knows why, but there are those who regard the English as arrogant and English rugby as yet more arrogant. To these misguided souls, the "Ash Splash" will be another gross manifestation of that particular nation's superiority complex.
Except Ashton does not quite fit that billing. Listening to this northerner, with all that stereotypical down-to-earthness, he seems anything but an egomaniac. And he has every right to insist no offence is either meant or should be taken. After all, the only nose which gets rubbed in mud in his act is Ashton's. Yet he should take note of the Italian reaction. At least one of their number was shown to be unhappy with the showboating and you could hardly claim the remonstration was that purely of a poor loser. If they are used to one thing, Italian rugby players are used to conceding tries. And then losing.
What they would not appreciate is anyone daring to give off the impression, after just two minutes of play, of a "no-contest". It is the same slight Naseem Hamed's opponents used to feel when he would drop his arms and stick out his chin. Eventually someone took the invitation and there were even those in Naseem's own country who danced at the sight of hubris claiming another TKO. Ashton will never have to worry on that score; his popularity is assured.
And that's the point. He doesn't need to take that risk. Let those who rarely receive the spotlight play the clown; the real talent are required only to play their role. One swallow dive does not make a stunner. Six tries in two games certainly does.
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
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