England's new caretaker defence coach, Paul Gustard, insists the tackling of the Saracens wing Chris Ashton is not an area of concern for this weekend's Heineken Cup quarter-final against Ulster at Twickenham.
Gustard, who will be part of Stuart Lancaster's management group in Argentina this summer as cover for the absent Lions assistant coach, Andy Farrell, said the 26-year-old Ashton was unfairly criticised following some high-profile errors in the Six Nations Championship.
"Chris is not a bad defender. Occasionally he misses a tackle but so what, everyone does," said Gustard, who played for Leicester and London Irish before turning to coaching.
"You can either focus on somebody's negatives or their positives. Over the last two weeks Chris has performed really well for Saracens. A year ago he was a world-class winger and a shoo-in for the Lions.
"He had an unbelievable try-scoring record for Northampton and scored a few tries for us at the start of the season. He gives us something different and he's a threat, even if the tries have dried up for a month or two. He's still an unbelievably dangerous player. He has more to his armoury than just scoring tries."
Gustard also stressed Ashton remains a key member of the defensive "wolf pack" that characterises Saracens' entire approach. "The problem defensively for a winger is that you're highlighted. It's like being the goalkeeper in football … you're the last man and if you make a mistake it can cost you. It's not just happened to him, it's happened to Mike Catt and Charlie Hodgson.
"Charlie had a bad defensive reputation before he came to Saracens but the stats show he's our third highest tackler. We've got a 'Wolf Board' listing our best defenders and Ashy's name is there this week. Your 'Wolfness' relates to your ability to knock somebody down and Chris was high up. At this club you'll never be vilified for a mistake, only a lack of effort."
Saracens are hoping to attract a crowd approaching 40,000 to Twickenham for Saturday's game, an occasion which also gives Gustard the chance to show why Lancaster has promoted him along with Exeter's Rob Baxter.
"England have mirrored what we do defensively so it's quite logical from Stuart's point of view," he said. "Hopefully I can bring my own personal way of delivering a message. I'd like to be a director of rugby and, like most people would, coach England but at the moment I'm still learning. I'm unbelievably fortunate to be working with so many talented players at Saracens and it's their work that gets us recognised in the coaching department."
Ulster, beaten finalists last season, have been suitably encouraged by their victory over Leinster at the weekend but Saracens, who have never reached a Heineken Cup final, have no injury problems and will select from a full-strength squad. The winners will face either Toulon or Leicester in the semi-finals.
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