Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Analysis Corner: Chris Ashton, England's Player of the Tournament

Ashton: Predator
Naming Chris Ashton the player of the tournament will not seem a controversial statement to the part-time rugby fan. He has scored six tries in four matches after all. The rugby purist though will tell you that wingers usually take the credit for the hard graft of players in the less glamorous positions.
Ashton however is so much more than a speedster at the end of the backline. It has been well documented that he is a master of ‘tracking lines’, these are when a player roams the park not looking to be part of the backline but looking to be on the inside shoulder of any man who makes a line-break.
Tracking lines are crucial in Rugby League as teams only have six tackles in which to score a try and so need to score immediately after making a break. Ashton’s Rugby League background has helped him become a master at predicting where breaks will appear. In this sense he makes his own luck and must be given full credit for his try scoring record.
This predatory ability has changed the way England play. His support lines turn half breaks into clean breaks and clean breaks into tries. For that reason he is the single most important factor behind the improvement in England’s backline.
Take the example of the Calcutta Cup tie last Sunday. England made two clean breaks in the game. These breaks ultimately separated the teams, giving crucial momentum to the English and piling the pressure on the Scots. Both of these came from Ashton support lines.
Here are the animations of Ashton's breaks;

Rory Lawson does a great job of sweeping up the original inside ball, but Ashton's presence on the inside shoulder turns a half break into a full-break, this move ended with Tom Wood being bundled into touch 1 yard from the Scottish line. This play, in the 42nd minute, really set the tone for England in the second half.

This time Richie Gray provides a strong cover tackle on Haskell, but Ashton's presence on the inside shoulder keeps the move alive and Foden so nearly scores in the corner. (check out Patterson's phenomenal cover tackle here)

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