Ruck and Maul: Whole new ball game for Ashton as he turns over to netball

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The Independent Online

It was widely perceived that Brian Ashton's "consultancy" work with the RFU was a euphemism for the former England coach disappearing quietly from Twickenham circles. Not so. "I have got a contract with the RFU," Ashton told Ruck and Maul. "A lot of it is about coaching the coaches. I'm working around the country with Nigel Redman, who is the Union's elite coach development manager, and I'm going over to France in the new year with the RFU to talk to club coaches in the Top 14." Ashton is also helping to bring through the country's young talent by mentoring Phil Stanlake, the head coach of the England Under-16s, and attending the squad's training weekends in the spring. The base for Ashton's new business at the University of Bath means it is not all about rugby either. Eagle-eyed TV viewers will have spotted him at a Superleague netball match last Monday. "I've been doing coach education in netball with Jess Garland of Team Bath," he said. "They have 10 of the England squad, who are in the top four in the world, so it's serious stuff. I did a session with them on turnover ball. The techniques are remarkably similar to rugby."

Diprose leads to Johnno

What do these clubs have in common: Marlborough Nomads, Heckmondwike, Wakefield and Headingley? Award yourself four points for "they no longer exist", but a try-scoring bonus if you spotted that they were all home to captains of England (Albert Hammersley, Richard Lockwood, Mike Harrison and John Spencer respectively). This gem is found in a new book, 'One Among Equals' (Vertical Editions, £17.99), which profiles the 122 men who have led their country, from Fred Stokes in 1871 to Steve Borthwick. Six captains shared the fate that their single match in charge was a defeat by Wales. Oh the shame of it! On facing pages in a splendid statistical section we find Tony Diprose's one match as skipper – the 76-0 "Tour of Hell" defeat by Australia in 1998 – opposite Martin Johnson's remarkable run of 27 wins in 28 matches up to and including the 2003 World Cup final. Those were the days, eh, Johnno?

Can Bentley go through the gears?

Every new year brings the rich promise and guaranteed hangover of the Rugby Writers' Club dinner in the first week of January. Leading candidates for the club's prestigious Pat Marshall Award (first made to Mervyn Davies in 1975-76) are Paul O'Connell, Mike Blair, Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Shane Williams and Ryan Jones. But there is a marginally lesser gong at stake. The club's chairman, The Independent's very own Chris Hewett, will be saying the customary prayers and crossing his fingers into a mass of white knuckles that his guest speaker will spread mirth and merriment among one of sport's toughest audiences. We wish the best of British to John Bentley, flying wing and hero of Cleckheaton, Newcastle, Leeds and Halifax RL, England and the Lions. The dreaded Henry Kelly Award, aka the "dying on your arse" trophy, stands by.