THERE was some chatter a few months back about Ewan Ashman – the Canada-born, England-raised, Sale Sharks hooker – being on the Twickenham radar. In fact, red rose forwards coach Matt Proudfoot even paid a visit to sound him out. But there was never any danger of the former Scotland Under-20s star switching allegiance.
“I listened to what they had to say but it was never a decision for me as I’m Scottish,” the 21-year-old stated emphatically, as he spoke after scoring a spectacular try on his senior international debut against Australia earlier today [Sunday]. “I think if the England guys had approached my dad or uncle then there wouldn’t even have been a conversation. They’re as Scottish as they come. It was a real proud day for me and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
“I told Gregor [Townsend] he had nothing to worry about and I’d be at the next camp,” added Ashman, whose father Jonathan is from Edinburgh and mother Carole is from Glasgow. “My family lived in Glasgow and they went [to Canada] for work. I lived in Canada for a bit until kindergarten, about the age of four, then came back and lived in Manchester since.”
Ashman was involved at various age-grade levels but first started really making reverberations in the Scottish rugby landscape during the two seasons he spent in the Scotland Under-20s squad, during which time he was a prolific try-scorer with 11 in 15 appearances, and that nose for the line was certainly in evidence against Australia, when he collected a pass from fellow front-rower Pierre Schoeman on the left touchline and demonstrated power, pace and agility to propel himself head first past a despairing tackle from Izaia Perese to dot the ball down before being knocked out of play.
“I didn’t think Schoey was going to give me the ball there,” the man of the moment shrugged, modestly. “He’s good from that range so I thought he would be head down. Fortunately he gave me the ball and I snuck in. I think I’m just a winger in a fat person’s body.
“I was thinking of doing a rugby league one-hander but I thought I could sneak in with two hands so better safe than sorry. It was good work from the boys to get there.”
Ashman – who was named in Scotland’s match-day 23 for this match after Stuart McInally suffered an illness earlier in the week – has struggled for game time with Sale Sharks this season, so it was a big ask to play 75 minutes after starting hooker George Turner hurt his ribs early on. But he took it all in his stride to play a central role in an important win for the home side.
“They called me and said: ‘Ewan’, I said: ‘Yeah?’, and they said: ‘You’re going on!’, so I didn’t have any time to get nervous,” he recalled. “I just stripped off and got on there. It was actually really good for me as those nerves were kind of building and it just let me relax into it – straight on and straight into the job. I really enjoyed it.”
“I was blowing by the end,” he confesses. “But the boys gee you up and there’s lots of energy throughout the team. Senior boys kept talking to me. It’s not hard to get up. I was buzzing coming to Murrayfield and the adrenaline was through the roof. Singing the anthem I was trying to hold it together. I was just buzzing to be there and that carried me through.
“I was really just focusing on my set-piece today and trying to do my job for the team and anything more than that was just a bonus.”
With Townsend not expecting Turner to be available to face the Springboks next weekend, Ashman could be in the frame to start against the world champions, although McInally is expected to be available again and his experience could be decisive. Whatever happens, the new kid on the block has demonstrated that he can be counted on to deliver at this level when required to do so again.
“We had real faith in him during the week as soon as he got the news he’d been selected,” stressed Townsend. “He’s been confident around training. He’s defended an area at the tail of the line-out which we knew the Aussies would target.
“I thought he responded to the responsibility of playing for his country and did very well. He’s a very good player already and he is someone who can get better and better over the next few years.
“I have to mention [fellow debutant] Josh Bayliss, too, and his impact. He got a really good turnover that reminded me of one of Cam Redpath’s turnovers at Twickenham on his first cap. That was a massive moment.
“The tries are great but defensive moments – Jamie Hodgson had a brilliant hold up tackle and Josh with the turnover – they’re just as pleasing for us.
“That’s probably the most pleasing aspect of these last two weeks, seeing these players who are getting their first chance with Scotland that seem to be born to play Test match rugby.”