Tom Vickers’ Saints v Saracens View: Get set for a Gardens grind

WHAT SAINTS FANS DON'T WANT TO SEE - Chris Ashton's 'Ash Splash' (Picture: Linda Dawson)
WHAT SAINTS FANS DON'T WANT TO SEE - Chris Ashton's 'Ash Splash' (Picture: Linda Dawson)

Every journalist that descended on Franklin’s Gardens for Wednesday’s press day asked, in one way, or another, about Chris Ashton’s first game back in Northampton.

The England wing left Saints for Saracens in acrimonious fashion during the summer and hasn’t looked back, scoring four tries in just six games for his new side.

Tom Vickers staff photograph

Tom Vickers staff photograph

He’s headline news, as usual.

England’s poster boy attracts more publicity than most in the rugby sphere after bursting onto the international scene back in 2010.

And this weekend, most fans in attendance at the Gardens will have a wry smile on their face as he runs out for Saints’ rivals Saracens.

But once the whistle blows, all that matters is how Saints shut Ashton, who scored 92 tries in 110 games in the green, black and gold, and his team-mates out.

You wouldn’t be surprised to see Northampton fancy a forward grind as they aim to stop the supply to Sarries’ spiky backline.

Ashton is just one of a number of England players in the ranks of the nomadic side, who can also boast the likes of Alex Goode and Owen Farrell.

And while Saints have their own attacking threats in the ever-improving Ken Pisi and his brother, George, their best chance remains in the pack.

Drilled by Dorian West, Northampton can turn the screw on the best of sides up front and putting the squeeze on Sarries there. Intimidating them at every turn looks to be the way forward.

If that happens, Ashton will be starved of attention, and we may not witness the ‘Ash Splash’ at any point on Saturday.

It will certainly be nip and tuck, but if Saints can turn on the power in the pack, Courtney Lawes and Co can put Ashton in the shade and keep their side in the spotlight at the top of the table.