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By ARU Media Unit
The countdown continues to next years’ Lions Tour down under and the contemplation of who will be in Red and who will be in Gold continues to be the topic of conversation in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.
In a Tour that has been 12 Years In the Making has made for some salivating showdowns on the field in 2013.
As the November Tests play out in the Northern hemisphere, the selection of potential players for next year’s British & Irish Lions Tour continues to build on the mind of the man who will coach them, Warren Gatland, who returns to his Head Coach position for Wales this week.
Following Australia’s recent triumph over England , we take a look at another of the potential mouth-watering matchups on the wing.
Two contenders are England’s Chris Ashton and Australia’s Digby Ioane. These two speedy powerhouses both have a huge ability to increase the try tally of their respective sides.
Chris Ashton started his competitive career in Rugby League, playing for the Wigan Warriors in 2005 before transferring codes in 2007 to play for the Northampton Saints. A product of St John Fisher Catholic High School, Ashton emerged through Wigan’s development system with a promising start to his Rugby Union career, scoring with his first touch of the ball during the opening game of the 2007-08 season with the Saints.
In his first season, Ashton also helped the Saints to the title with a record 39 tries in 25 matches, finishing as the top scorer in the European Challenge Cup.
In 2009-10 he scored 23 tries from 32 matches, which also included 16 tries in 20 matches for the Saints, the highest total in a single season for over a decade. Ashton was duly recognised, being named the Premiership Player of the Season.
His ability to cross the paint saw him called into the England squad by coach, , Martin Johnson, for the 2010 Six Nations.
His Six Nation selection was closely followed by tours to Australia and New Zealand, where his maiden Test try came in his third appearance, England’s the 21-20 win over Australia in June 2010.
Ashton’s unrelenting form continued in the 2010-11 season with the Saints, before again impressing against the Aussies with a stunning 85 metre runaway try during the Qantas Wallabies 2010 Spring Tour.
He was named man of the match in his sides 59-13 Six Nations win over Italy after he became the only English player to score four tries in a Championship match, the first for 97 years.
Combined with his two tries against Wales he reached a Six Nations’ Championship equaling best of six in a season and the leading 2011 Championship try-scorer.
The same year he bagged a hat-trick of tries for England in their victory over the Barbarians.
The skillful winger was included in England’s World Cup side last year, where he again proved his worth as a points-scoring machine. His six tries during the 2011 Rugby World Cup was just two short of the individual tournament record held by Jonah Lomu (1999) and Bryan Habana (2007).
Digby Ioane began his representative career in the Australian Under 19s before gaining selection in the Australian Under 21 side.
His Super Rugby debut came in 2005 when, as a 20-year old, Ioane stepped out for the Queensland Reds, however his time at the Reds was short lived as Ioane joined the Western Force the following year for their maiden season.
In 2007 Ioane made his debut in the Qantas Wallabies Gold jersey and celebrated the occasion crossing the paint for his maiden Test try A year later, in 2008, Ioane re-joined the Queensland Reds where he has since proven to have an uncanny ability to break the line and score spectacular tries, which are usually followed by even more spectacular celebratoins.
Ioane continued his good form in the Gold jersey with tries against Wales during visits to Cardiff in 2008 and 2009.
Despite being plagued by injury in 2009 and 2010, the powerful, fast paced Ioane is still considered one of Rugby’s most lethal players at wing who can also ply his trade at outside centre.
In 2010 Ioane surpassed 50 Super Rugby appearances spread across the Reds and the Force.
Despite making his Qantas Wallabies debut in 2007 Ioane had to wait until 2011 to play in his maiden Tri Nations Test, in which he helped the Aussies to a 39-20 win over the Springboks. The win also helped the Qantas Wallabies secure their first Tri Nations title in a decade.
Ioane made his Rugby World Cup debut in New Zealand last year and made an impressive start scoring his fourth Test try for the year in Australia’s 32-6 win over Italy in their opening match of the tournament before the entertaining winger was again ruled out through injury.
Despite suffering a string of injuries in his six-year career Ioane’s ability has never been questioned. With just over 30 appearances in the Gold jersey, he has been a first choice pick, when fit, for Australia since his debut six years ago.
Ioane has also remained a committed member of the Queensland Reds where he has played a starring role and ranked as a leading line-breaker in Super Rugby. The form displayed by Ioane has been a key feature of the Reds’ resurgence and helped them to secure their maiden Super Rugby title in 2011, after his try in the final helped the Queensland side topple the Crusaders.
He is the only player, other than skipper Nathan Sharpe, to have started in every Test in 2012, including all six Tests of the inaugural Castrol EDGE Rugby Championship. His tries in both Tests against Argentina during the inaugural Championship took him beyond 50 Test points.
Whilst Ioane has a few more years’ under his belt as a Test player, his injury plagued career has meant his actual experience is close to that of Ashton’s.
Both Ashton and Ioane have started in all of their Test games, with Ioane just surpassing Ashton’s 27 Test caps, with 32.
They both started their international Rugby careers with superior try-scoring ability compared to many of their team mates, however in the last year their successful touch down figures have been below their usual lofty standards.
If their fast line-breaking, point-scoring skill is on show during next year’s Lions Tour it will make for an entertaining and exciting showdown between the two sides. Should one of them be slightly more effective in plying their trade during the three Tests it could be the difference between one side holding aloft the coveted Tom Richards trophy.