Final Score: England 54 Fiji 12
CHRIS Ashton will be desperate to inflict more misery on Australia after being forced to watch Charlie Sharples shine for England in his self-inflicted absence.
That is the view of England head coach Stuart Lancaster, who has been left with a selection poser after Sharples took his opportunity against Fiji with two tries in a 54-12 victory on Saturday.
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England scored seven touchdowns in total but Ashton missed out on the chance to break his international duck for 2012 because he was suspended, having collected three yellow cards for dangerous play.
Ashton, who has scored three tries in three Tests against Australia, is available as England go in search of a third consecutive win against the Wallabies.
Everything points to his immediate return to the side, with Sharples and Ugo Monye competing for the other wing berth – and Ashton will come back with a point to prove.
‘‘Chris was desperately disappointed to miss this game,’’ Lancaster said.
‘‘He likes scoring tries and, if anything, this will fuel his hunger and desire to get back into the side. It was a tough lesson to learn.
‘‘We all know the quality of Chris Ashton. He has been one of the in-form players, both in the Premiership this season and since I have been involved with England.
‘‘Australia are a top-three side and we recognise the quality of players we will need to beat them.’’ Ashton was warned to work on his tackling technique by the disciplinary officials who banned him, which he has done with England coach Andy Farrell.
Lancaster has also spoken to him about the need for selfcontrol and discipline. Two of the yellow cards were for late charges and one for a dangerous tackle.
But neither of those issues will count against Ashton’s selection to face the Wallabies, against whom he scored one of the great Twickenham tries in 2010.
‘‘He has done some work on this with Andy. We know his quality, he tracks the ball well and he is a great finisher. We don’t ignore what he has done in the past,’’ Lancaster said.
Sharples went into the Fiji game with no expectations of unseating Ashton from the team, given he is England’s most prolific try-scorer with 15 from 26 Tests.
But the Gloucester wing made a strong case to be Ashton’s wing man against the Wallabies with an impressive two-try performance.
‘‘I wasn’t expecting one good performance to push ‘Ashy’ out when he has played exceptionally well for England for the last couple of years,’’ Sharples said.
‘‘My goal was to do the best I could, put a bit of competition on him and also with Ugo Monye for the other wing spot.
‘‘It was a good game for a wing. Our attack was firing, I got my hands on the ball and scored two tries. I was happy with the way it went.’’ If Ashton and Sharples were both selected, one of them would have to start in their less-favoured left-wing position.
Monye will hope to influence that debate in training this week, having worn the 11 jersey against Fiji and marked his return to the England team with a simple try.
‘‘There are selection decisions to be made. It’s not a nightmare at all, it’s a great position to be in,’’ Lancaster said.
Sharples and Monye were joined on the scoresheet by Manu Tuilagi, who touched down twice late on against the tiring Fijians, and Tom Johnson, while the England pack earned a penalty try.
Alex Goode was highly influential from full-back, stepping up to act as England’s second playmaker alongside Toby Flood and bringing a new dimension to the red rose attack.
While Goode shone, Lancaster believes his influence will be even more important against the might of Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.
‘‘The defences will be tight and tough to break down. To do that you need intelligent footballers and he is that,’’ Lancaster said.
Despite Goode’s vision and the seven tries scored, Lancaster is acutely aware that England were not anywhere near as clinical as they wanted to be or will need to be.
‘‘It was a good start but we recognise the quality of the opposition that is coming around the corner.
“We will have to step up a couple of levels next week,’’ Lancaster said.
‘‘We will have to be at our best. We are going to have to be more clinical.’’ In addition to Ashton, Lancaster is expecting to have fitagain prop Alex Corbisiero and centre Jonathan Joseph available to face Australia.