Ollie Phillips: Chris Ashton is exactly the type of weapon England need to trouble New Zealand

Ollie Phillips
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Chris Ashton has scored 19 tries in 40 appearances for England (Source: Getty)

Chris Ashton’s selection to face New Zealand at Twickenham on Saturday is an exciting and bold move by England head coach Eddie Jones.

Ashton is a natural-born try-scorer who is dangerous across all areas of the pitch. He has a fantastic record and will certainly cause the All Blacks headaches defensively.

Jack Nowell, who he replaces, may feel aggrieved as Ashton has only played one club game this season since joining Sale from Toulon in the summer, but he provides exactly what England need.

He can be quiet all game and still spring into life at the opportune moment to give England points or defensive relief.

The winger has scored 19 tries in 40 appearances for England yet starts on Saturday for the first time in over four years.

He is mostly to blame for that - his personal decisions and bans have held him back - but being named in the starting XV is a big show of faith from Jones. Ashton must now seize his chance.

England should be commended for their performance in beating South Africa 12-11 last weekend. It wasn’t pretty but they eked out a win through hard work, heart and organisation under pressure.

After a mostly poor 2018 they will take confidence from back-to-back victories over the Springboks. The problem is it’s only going to get harder now.

As well as England defended they also benefited from some South African sloppiness on Saturday as the visitors dropped passes and failed to convert openings. It’s unlikely world No1 side the All Blacks will be so generous.

New Zealand are experts at converting pressure into points. With Damien McKenzie at full-back they have a second playmaker alongside the excellent fly-half Beauden Barrett and offer threat all over the pitch.

Wingers Ben Smith and Rieko Ioane and centre Sonny Bill Williams can all be devastating and are sure to test England’s defensive line.

Williams’s match up with Ben Te’o is an interesting sub-plot with both players physical former Australian rugby league stars. How Brad Shields plays against his country of birth is also one to watch out for.

I like this England side but this is their biggest test under Jones and they will need to find a few more gears than they showed against South Africa.

I am concerned by the lack of attacking threat – they didn’t create much at all, with Saturday’s win coming from set pieces, penalties and hard graft. That won’t be enough at the weekend.

Sam Underhill comes into the side at flanker for the unfortunately injured Tom Curry. The 22-year-old is a quality player, excellent at poaching the ball, who was unlucky to struggle with concussion last year.

It’s great to see him back and he, Shields and Mark Wilson will have to be exceptional if England are to defy the odds.

Overall, though, I don’t think England have the answers to the questions New Zealand pose and home advantage won’t be enough.

The All Blacks are shrewd, creative and masters of solving problems in-game; they can play poorly and still win. Everything needs to go right for Jones’s side to prevail.

Ollie Phillips is a former England Sevens captain and now a director within the real estate & construction team at PwC. Follow Ollie on Twitter and on LinkedIn.

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