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'It's very poignant for Chris, the last few years have been tricky'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)

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Ex-England international Topsy Ojo has saluted the achievement of Chris Ashton in becoming the equal all-time record Premiership try-scorer, his two tries last Sunday for Leicester versus Exeter bringing him level with long-time record holder Tom Varndell on 92 tries scored. The recent Tigers recruit had fallen into the margins in recent years with unsuccessful stints at Harlequins and Worcester following his sudden February 2020 exit from Sale.

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He scored two tries in seven appearances for Quins before pitching up at the Warriors in January 2021. However, his spell at Sixways was truncated, Ashton scoring his only try in four appearances when starting versus Northampton in March last year. Things ended unceremoniously at Worcester with Ashton forced out in December with six months still remaining on his contract and it appeared as if his career was now over and he would be forced into retirement. 

However, a conversation with Steve Borthwick, his old Saracens teammate, resulted in the career-saving deal that has since taken him to Leicester for the remainder of the 2021/22 campaign and he has now scored three tries in five games to draw him level with Varndell. It leaves him poised to soon set a new all-time try-scoring record as the Tigers still have four regulation season Premiership games to play before the playoffs – starting at Ashton’s old club Harlequins on April 23.

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Chris Ashton | Rugby Roots
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Chris Ashton | Rugby Roots

Former London Irish flyer Ojo – a winger who himself wasn’t shy about scoring as he managed 46 Premiership tries during his career – has worked in recent times with Ashton doing some media punditry on the league and knows how massive an incentive breaking the record is to his fellow ex-England international.

“He will be champing at the bit and I imagine the whole Leicester team will be eager for him to break that record,” reckoned Ojo when asked by RugbyPass about the vibrant Ashton revival at Leicester. “It’s incredible for Chris. I was with him a couple of weeks ago, we were doing some work together, and just chatting to him, I guess coming back to break the record would have been a big carrot in terms of him getting going again but also just him knowing that he had unfinished business.

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“To be able to cement yourself in history is something very, very rare. Few people get to say I am the number one at this or I have done the most at that, so for him to go on and break it – and I have no doubt that he will – and to be able to say ‘I have scored the most tries in Premiership history’ is an incredible achievement. Danny Care (with 78 tries) would probably be the only (high-listed) current player still going, so it is potentially a record Chris is going to have for a long, long time and credit to him because he will admit the last few years have been tricky.

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“How he finished up at Quins, how he finished up at Worcester and probably being in a bit of limbo over those years. But to now be at a club where he is very happy with clear messaging, knows what he needs to do, what is expected of him, he is back scoring tries and it is everything he would want, so fair play to him.

“Stories like that are what makes the Premiership what it is. The product itself has been brilliant even throughout the Six Nations period the rugby continued to be good. You get these high-scoring games, these end-to-end games, but the stories within the stories are what make it quite exciting and Chris is a very poignant one in terms he might have thought his career was done in the last few years.

“You’re sitting around and waiting for a phone call to say that you have a job, just to say you can put food on the table for your family and kids, and then an opportunity like Leicester comes about where you get to go to a team at the top of the table. You know a precedent has been set in terms of how Steve Borthwick has driven things, so you need to adjust, get your head down and work hard.

“But given Chris’ background, one thing he was always going to do was knuckle down and work hard and he has found an environment that he enjoys. It’s the same for any player: if you put them in an environment they enjoy, where they understand what they need, what is expected of them and what they need to do, they will flourish. They go out and do their job and big things can happen. That is the case with most players, I think.”

  • BT Sport is the home of Gallagher Premiership Rugby. The 2021/22 season continues with London Irish vs Harlequins live on BT Sport 1 from 3pm on Sunday, April 3. For more information visit bt.com/sport
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