June International Tours

Ashton not ready to tour hell



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England coach Brian Ashton and stand-in captain Jason Robinson were both defiant on Tuesday in refuting that the patched-up England team, shorn of over 30 players because of injury and club commitments, is on another ‘tour to hell’ in South Africa.


A similarly-stretched England team was walloped twice in Australia under Clive Woodward in 1997, and with South Africa enjoying a spell of success, many predict heavy defeats for the English.

But Ashton dismissed outright the idea that England were on a hiding to nothing.

“Damage limitation and Brian Ashton don’t sit together,” he said to reporters at Twickenham.

“We are going to approach the tests in the right way, a very positive way, and let’s see what happens in Bloemfontein.”

Ashton would not be drawn on required results though, offering only the expectation that each player do his best.

Robinson also rejected any negativity, citing the usual old tour excitement as the prevailing feeling among the squad members.

“There’s an extra bit of excitement, it’s a great bunch of guys and there is a great opportunity for a lot of them to come back and give Brian a selection headache,” he said.

“There is going to be a lot of enthusiasm. The players itching to be going out there and prove themselves so in that way it could be a good couple of weeks for us.”

The teams meet in Bloemfontein on May 26 and Pretoria on June 2, continuing on from their two-Test series in November which finished one win apiece, and so will know each other pretty well by the time they play in the pool stage of the World Cup in Paris in September.

These two fixtures won’t have much of a bearing on that match given the weakness of the England squad, but Ashton argued that the real South Africa has also not been seen this year.

“From a domestic point of view they’ve made big improvements this season, although it’s difficult to gauge because of the absence of the top line New Zealand players until halfway through the Super 14,” he said.

“South Africa on home soil is always a big challenge at any time and whatever squad you take and I am not in the slightest doubt that they have some really good players.

“I was out there 18 months ago doing some coaching with the Blue Bulls and am well aware of the calibre of the players they’ve got and I would think they are going to be knocking about at the top end when the World Cup comes around.”

The last time England won in Bloemfontein was 27-22 in 2000, with Ashton a part of the coaching team then.

365 Digital

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