Northampton 35 Bedford 9: Try-scoring exploits make Ashton more Saint than sinner

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The Independent Online

Chris Ashton is affectionately known as the nutcase on the wing by his Northampton team-mates after spending three stints in the sin bin during his debut season in rugby union. The former England rugby league full-back, who signed from Wigan Warriors last summer, can see the funny side. Ashton's remarkable try-scoring feats have had more impact than the occasional shoulder barge which crossed over with him from the 13-a-side code.

Ashton lasted the full course without misdemeanour against Bedford, and by scoring his second try in added time at the end he took his total to 20 from 17 appearances, five of which were as a replacement. The National Division One record of 28 held by Plymouth's Nic Sestaret is in sight for this exciting 20-year-old.

"Without a doubt Chris has the capability to play for England," said Jim Mallinder, Northampton's director of rugby, whose previous job was coaching England Saxons. "They've got to look at him as a player of massive potential."

Mallinder might have recommended Ashton more heartily for the Saxons in the two fixtures during the Six Nations Championship if they did not clash with Northampton's league dates. Saints can probably handle the temporary absence. They have won all 18 of their National One matches to date, and look certain to emulate Harlequins and Leeds in the last two seasons with promotion back to the Premiership as champions at the first attempt. Five-figure crowds flock to every match at Franklin's Gardens this derby win drew a division record 13,464.

"We feel quite stable, we're winning games but we know if we get back in the Premiership there's a lot of building to do," said Mallinder.

"Our pack needs a lot of work and we need more strength in depth in the backs," he said. "We're seeing who's available, but some of the players we have in mind are in contract and we won't get our hands on them for next season."

Bedford found it tough to lay a hand on Ashton who scored his first try, taken at top speed to finish a counter-attack by Jon Clarke and Matt Lord, in the 36th minute. The Northampton scrummage was impressive but there were overtones familiar from the relegation campaign in their flakiness in possession.

Ashton endured booing from the Wigan crowd last summer after announcing his plan to move on a three-year contract. "It got to me a bit, I'll not lie. I wanted get out of Wigan to make a fresh start down here, that's what I've done and I could not be happier at the moment."

Northampton: Tries Ashton 2, Myler, penalty; Conversions Myler 3; Penalties Everitt 2, Myler. Bedford: Penalties Pritchard 3.

Northampton: C Spencer; C Ashton, J Clarke, J Downey, B Reihana (capt); B Everitt (S Myler, 30), J Howard (M Robinson, 66); T Smith (S Tonga'uiha, 66), D Hartley (P Shields, 71), E Murray, M Lord (P Hoy, 68), A Rae, P Tupai, B Lewitt, M Hopley.

Bedford: B Burke; J Pritchard (G Sammons, 64-74), L Roberts (J Hinkins, 78), M Allen (capt), A Page; B Patston (R Owen, 74), K Dickson (W Chudley, 74); M Cecere (M Volland, 52), D Richmond, B Fortuna, J Phillips (A Brenton, 61), M Botha, N Strauss, S Harding (C Mundy, 69), R McKay.

Referee: G Garner (London)