Loose Pass: Chris Ashton, props and the World Cup

Date published: July 4 2018

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with moves, props, and the World Cup…

He’s back!

We here at Loose Pass confidently predict the one story will already be dominating the headlines round about October/November time, concerning one Chris Ashton, namely: will he manage to force his way into Eddie Jones’ thinking?

Moving from Toulon to Sale, very much against the wishes of Mourad Boujellelal – not one often not to get his own way – would suggest that Ashton now very much believes the door to the white jersey might be open again.

And actually, why not? Breaking the Top 14 try scoring record is no mean feat! Ashton had done it by mid-April. And as if that wasn’t enough, we probably don’t need to remind you of Ashton’s exploits against England – albeit a weaker England – for the Baa-Baas in May. He remains a potent attacking force.

That’s the surface argument anyway. Digging deeper reveals that the questions surrounding Ashton’s repeated non-selection may not really have been answered. His defence remains suspect, positive net point contribution to most games he plays or not, and it remains to be seen whether he can still be baited into the succession of scratches and bites that ensured his time in England was blighted by suspensions at awkward moments. Jones memorably described him as ‘mad as a cut snake’ when he got himself banned just before a Six Nations.

Yet France has for Ashton been, as it has for many a player looking to rediscover himself, a breath of fresh air. He has added full-back to his list of possible positions, which can hardly damage his defensive awareness, and disciplinary problems have not been a factor in France – a country where the ill-disciplined are often found out quickly.

England’s beleaguered coach is still sifting around for answers to his stuttering side. Jonny May’s rich vein of form probably takes care of one wing, but Mike Brown has not been the answer on the other while Elliot Daly’s enterprise and siege gun boot seems for the moment to have him as the preferred option for the number 15 jersey.

But Ashton on the other wing? Brown, one of Jones’ stalwarts, relegated to bench duty? Or Daly switched to accommodate Ashton’s new-found form? Can Ashton do what even he once described as impossible and please England’s coach? Expect a lot of extra focus on Sale’s matches this autumn…

The world’s most international position?

Two other moves this week involved players moving from France as well, but both of the players of nationalities far more exotic than Ashton.

Georgia’s reputation for breeding front-rows of fearsome power and intimidating eyebrows has long been well-deserved, and Wasps’ signing of Zurabi Zhvania carries on this tradition; of the five Georgians to be included in Premiership squads, Zhvania is the fifth, and the third front-row.

Meanwhile, over in Wales, Moldovan Dimitri Arhip has headed across from the Ospreys to Cardiff Blues. In France, the number and variety of nationalities is intriguing: a scattering of North Africans, bolstered by Russians, exotic Polynesians, Poles, Spaniards… all corners of the earth are being scoured for six-foot square stubbled monsters eager to wrestle off against each other.

Props are a rare breed indeed, but as the game gets increasingly international, they are being found in all corners of the world. Is it the game’s most international position?

New faces?

While Germany came up predictably short in their match against Samoa, Hong Kong continue to impress with their efforts to make it to Japan.

The measured and belligerent 26-3 win away to the Cook Islands leaves Hong Kong handily-placed to enter the repechage round against a Canada side that has badly lost its way, an unknown quantity in Germany – who have been dealing with a number of internal problems – and probably Zimbabwe.

Out of that four, the smart money is probably on Zimbabwe (what a story having Peter de Villiers back at the World Cup would be), but Hong Kong look to be the best-organised and most focussed of the quartet so far. Another new name set to grace the world’s showpiece tournament?

Loose Pass compiled by Lawrence Nolan