Ashton 2010 or May 2020? Rugby Union Weekly debates which wonder-try was better

Chris Ashton and Jonny May
Chris Ashton and Jonny May scored long-range tries against Australia and Ireland respectively

There are 10 years and around 80,000 spectators difference between the two tries. But also a lot of similarities.

The first came in November 2010 against Australia. England turn over ball on their own line and, spotting space, strike blind. Chris Ashton hares up the wing. Drew Mitchell is covering across, shutting down the space, but Ashton carves inside, fires the after-burners to leave the Wallaby for dust and dive under the posts.

The second was on Saturday. Once again it came from an opposition mistake. An Ireland line-out, inside the England 22m, goes wayward. England pounce and spin wide. Jonny May doesn’t have the initial space that Ashton did. But he makes it for himself. He swerves outside Chris Farrell, zips past Bundee Aki and then chips over full-back Hugo Keenan and holds off Jamison Gibson-Park to regather and dot down.

Chris Ashton
Ashton could start celebrating his score before passing under the posts, having left the Wallabies behind

Two coast-to-coast classics – but which was better?

Fortunately, the Rugby Union Weekly team, including the unbiased and impartial Ashton himself, are here to deliver the definitive verdict.

England and Harlequins scrum-half Danny Care: “For me Chris’ try is better, purely because you have the roar of the Twickenham crowd. Everyone thinks Drew Mitchell is going to tackle him and then Ashy does him on the outside and the noise builds to the crescendo as he splashes down under the post. The fans make it better.

“But Jonny’s skill wise had more than Ashy’s . It had an in-out, a chip with his weaker foot, a regather, a hand-off, a put down. Jonny has put together some incredible skills for that score.”

England and Harlequins wing Chris Ashton (with tongue firmly in cheek): “They were both very good tries. After Jonny shanked that kick he managed to outsprint seven players across the pitch, but where was the opposite wing James Lowe? He is dragging a dresser back thereā€¦ I don’t want to have to fight this corner anymore. Mine was better, Jonny’s was not too bad. It’s done.”

Jonny May and Jamison Gibson-Park
Jonny May won a race with Ireland scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park to regather his kick ahead and score

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How has Jonny May changed his game?

Jonny May makes his England debut in 2013
May made his England debut in a 51-26 win away to Argentina in June 2013

Ashton: “Jonny still has that headless chicken style in the way he plays sometimes, but Eddie has managed him and is very direct with him. He has told him he needs him to chase kicks like his life depends on it, get up in the air, defend well and run hard. Eddie couldn’t have made it any simpler for him. And Jonny knows if he does it well he will score tries.

“There might be players I have come up against who have a better change of direction or acceleration, but in terms of pure straight-line speed I have never seen anyone as fast as him.

“He is creeping up on Rory Underwood’s record of 49 England tries. At 30, I hope he has time to get there because it would be good to have a modern player with that record.

Care: “I saw a shift in Jonny around 2016. He wants to feel loved. Eddie put his arm around him, said he believed he could be the best wing in the world and gave him the confidence to be himself. He still is a headless chicken at times, but you give him that structure and instructions and he will do things incredibly well. He is the ultimate professional, he doesn’t drink, he stretches for an hour every night, he is always in the gym early.

“Jonny is in the defensive leadership meetings now. He leads everything on kick-chase and kick pressure, he has a massive role in that team. If you had said that five or six years ago, people would have thought you were mad because he seemed clueless. But he is incredibly smart and it is something he has worked on.”

How does rugby need to change?

Jamie George scores against Georgia
England hooker Jamie George scored a hat-trick of tries from the back of the rolling maul in the win over Georgia on the opening weekend of the Autumn Nations Cup

May’s try has been one of the few moments of magic in an Autumn Nations Cup that has been high on attrition and low on inspiration.

As the game competes for hearts, minds and eyeballs, what, if anything, needs to change?

Care: “Rugby is a copy-cat sport, people look to what the best teams are doing. Saracens kick incredibly well, chase incredibly well, and have a strong set-piece. Exeter have the best driving maul in the country. And everywhere the game is all about defence.

“There will have been young kids watching England v Ireland at home, thinking they will go and play Fortnite instead or stick Fifa on the console. The rugby we are seeing isn’t going to inspire the next generation of players.

“That rugby doesn’t look fun to me. I picked up a rugby ball because I like to score tries, throw the ball around and sidestep, but you don’t really see that a lot at the moment. It is not going to change until some rules change.

“I would ban the caterpillar ruck, so it wouldn’t be as easy to set up a massive line and box-kick out of trouble.

“You should get less points for driving maul tries. It is boring, no-one wants to see that, make it three points rather than five.”

Rugby union correspondent Chris Jones: “I think that it is cyclical.

“The 2007 Rugby World Cup was a bore-fest, the 2009 Lions tour against South Africa was some of the most epic rugby we have seen.

“The 2011 Rugby World Cup was take it or leave it, but the 2015 Rugby World Cup was excellent.

“In 2017 defences dominated, but at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, to the knock-out stages at least, the rugby was great.

“I think the year immediately after a World Cup is not the best one to judge because teams are not as good as they will be three years down the line.

“The pandemic has prevented teams coming together and training as much and when you don’t have that time together you go back to basics, kick, chase and defend.

“It could be that in a year’s time we have the British and Irish Lions against South Africa, the best of the best going at it on hard, fast pitch, and we are all saying what a great sport rugby is again.”

Jaques Fourie
Jaque Fourie’s late try in the monumental second Test of the Lions tour in 2009 set up a last-gasp 25-23 win for the Springboks in one of the sport’s all-time great games

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