Chris Ashton provided the try scoring power to send Saracens into a titanic European Champions Cup semi-final with Munster and then insisted the double winners will be underdogs in Dublin on April 22/23.
Given the way Sarries defeated Glasgow Warriors in yesterday’s quarter-final 38-13, that appears to be wishful thinking on Ashton’s behalf, but he recognises the inherent dangers posed by a Munster side that has used the tragic death earlier this season of coach Anthony Foley to recapture the form that won two European Cup titles. There is also the Aviva Stadium factor with England having recently lost their Grand Slam clash to Ireland on the same ground followed by Wasps 32-17 mauling by Leinster on Saturday at a venue that will be filled with 50,000 Munster fans.
Ashton, who scored two tries to stand joint top with Toulouse’s Vincent Clerc on 36 in the tournament, said: “We will definitely be the underdogs in that game. It doesn’t matter that the match isn’t at Munster’s home ground at Thomond Park , they will fill the place. They have had a great season and are back to the Munster of old and we have to go there and do a job against a big Irish team that fancies themselves in the semi-final. Hopefully, if we play like we did against Glasgow then we are going to be fine.
“ I lost the Grand Slam game in 2011 with England at the Aviva Stadium and it was horrible. It is a really nice ground, but it is about dealing with the emotion of the situation and I do believe we are in a much better position to where we were some years ago and to a certain extent where England were at the end of this Six Nations. You learn from all of those experiences and how to deal with things a lot better. “
Ashton is off to join Toulon next season and wants to end his successful period at Sarries in the right way by repeating last season’s Champions Cup and Premiership title triumphs. What stood out against Glasgow was the different ways the reigning champions are finding to unlock the opposition defence which makes them a very potent force. “ Even I was impressed;” said Ashton. “Sometimes I find myself just waiting for the ball after lots of phases and have to anticipate when that might happen. But against Glasgow, some of the handling was outstanding. We were hitting holes, creating space and making the defence go everywhere.
“It is exactly what we wanted to do but doesn’t always go to plan so it was nice to see it happen and it was only unfortunate that Sean (Maitland) and I couldn’t finish a few more tries in the corner. “
Sarries, into their fifth Cup semi-final, have had to overcome injury problems this season and will not get England lock George Kruis back until the Northampton game in two week’s time while Springbok Schalk Burger is still hampered by a calf injury. They lost Argentina prop Juan Figallo with what could be a serious foot injury yesterday making a double repeat a tough ask. Ashton admitted; “I wish it did feel like last season – I really do – but it isn’t like that. However, we are in the same position of fighting for both trophies and we don’t want to give it up. It will be the same mentality when we face Quins at Wembley on Saturday.” Clermont will meet Leinster in the other semi-final.