Chris Ashton is a 'fighter' but needs to channel his energy in the right way, says Saracens coach Alex Sanderson
Saracens coach and former player Alex Sanderson insists under-fire winger Chris Ashton has a winning mentality but admits he needs to channel his energies in the right direction.
The England international was sin-binned in the second half of last Sunday’s 14-12 defeat to Exeter Chiefs after he needlessly shoulder barged into a maul, making contact with opposition winger Matt Jess in the process.
It was the second time in four games Ashton has been dismissed and, as director of rugby Mark McCall said after the match, it proved a costly mistake as Exeter took advantage to score the winning try in Ashton’s corner.
But Sanderson, who spent two years with the Men in Black as a player, believes Ashton’s tenacity is a valuable asset to the team.
“Chris is a fighter, he’s a winner, and you’d rather have someone like that on your team than not,” Sanderson said.
“You can’t take that out of him otherwise you’ve got a different player.”
Sanderson revealed no individual conversations were held with Ashton this week but admits the 25-year-old needs to keep his emotions in check, however difficult that may be.
“Chris knows himself, we don’t have to talk to him,” Sanderson said.
“I think the incident came out of frustration with the game, with how it was going and because he wasn’t being able to get his hands on the ball.
“Chris channelled his frustrations down the wrong avenue and what we have to do as coaches is try and make sure he channels it in the right way.
“There’s a fine line between being on the edge, where you can be at your best, and being over that edge – it’s not easy and even some of the world’s best players get it wrong sometimes.”
While Ashton is perhaps the most notorious of Saracens’ offenders, he is certainly not the only one to have stepped over the edge this season.
Kelly Brown has also been sin-binned twice and the number of penalties given away throughout the team has been too high.
The Men in Black play Harlequins at the Stoop on Sunday and Sanderson believes the team’s discipline will have to improve if they are to beat the league’s tougher opponents.
“We can’t win these kinds of games if we haven’t got 15 men on the pitch,” he said.
“The reality is that discipline goes a long way in the big games - our penalty count recently hasn’t been good enough and we haven’t taken our chances when they’ve come.
“Discipline is one of our core values here so it’s been all the more disappointing.”
With four wins out of four and a victory against Leicester last weekend fresh in the memory, opponents don’t come much tougher than Harlequins.
Nick Evans, Ugo Monye and Danny Care have all been in fine form for Quins recently while the performances of Nick Easter have prompted talk of an England recall from Harlequins director of rugby Conor O'Shea.
Sanderson was full of praise for the league leaders who he believes can now be considered favourites to win the title.
He said: “They’re reigning champs, they’re in great form so there’s no doubt it’s going to be a really tough game.”
“They probably are the favourites for the title now having beaten Leicester and having got off to the start they have.
“They play a high tempo brand of rugby and that means quick throws, quick penalties, quick passing and if you give them a chance to get that momentum they’re hard to stop.”
Kick-off at the Stoop will be at 2pm.