Ashton: 'Odd' Vicarage Road can help us
Vicarage Road is a crumbling rampart compared to the pristine citadel of Thomond Park, but Chris Ashton believes Saracens' home ground is still a fortress of sorts and says it has a role to play if his side are to turn things around against Munster tomorrow in this weekend's showpiece Heineken Cup match.
"It's an odd ground and not easy to play at and Saracens have done well there, I can't remember winning there for Northampton," says Ashton, who saw precious little of the ball in Limerick last week, when Saracens lost 15-9.
"It's unusual. Players are not used to that big empty stand on one side and it can be a little difficult to adapt to. It's quite a wide pitch as well."
Dubbed with gentle irony as 'Stadio Vicario' by their hooker John Smit, Saracens have been playing at Watford for 15 years but will be moving lock, stock and barrel to Allianz Park in Barnet Copthall in February.
Indeed, after tomorrow, Saracens will have just two more games at Vicarage Road in which to sign off with something special.
"It's a must-win game for us, plain and simple," says Ashton, who is making his first appearance at Vicarage Road in Sarries colours. "If we lose, our other two games become just chances and we are relying on Munster losing to go through.
"We played much better in the second half in Limerick, especially in the final quarter, and at least we got a bonus point, but we need to start exactly where we left off.
"Our set-piece didn't go as well as we would like and we gave penalties away, which isn't normally like us. Just silly stuff, easy things to fix up in training.
"We have scored eight tries in this competition and conceded just one, so we are not far wrong, but we need to find some of the fluency we showed against Edinburgh."
To that end Saracens have embarked on quite a rejig behind the scrum. Richard Wigglesworth and Owen Farrell – who finished the game at Thomond in tandem at half-back, will start this time – while Joel Tomkins comes in for his biggest union game so far, replacing Farrell at centre. On the wing, David Strettle starts ahead of Chris Wyles.
Ashton is an expert on Munster, having played against them five times for Northampton in two years – with just the one win.
"They have definitely changed their style even in that short period. They used to have a big pack and play off that but now they play with a lot more width and really move the ball around, which has never really been the case with them," he said.
"It probably makes for a better spectacle. I'm sure they will play like that again this weekend, but hopefully we can use that to our advantage and play off it." (© Daily Telegraph, London)