When Chris Ashton twice burst over the line in Clermont to rewrite European records, you could almost sense his England naysayers disappearing completely from sight.
And former Red Rose wing Mark Cueto believes Stuart Lancaster will restore Saracens’ talisman to the starting XV in New Zealand after delivering that resounding riposte to his Six Nations snub.
The 27-year-old was fully involved in the Autumn internationals but did not play a single minute at this year’s Championship, Lancaster instead favouring the untried Jack Nowell at 14.
Ashton’s response has been to record 11 Heineken Cup tries in a single season – with a final against Toulon to come – and, markedly, has excelled in defence against elite European opposition in Ulster and Clermont.
With Nowell needing a knee operation the path is seemingly paved for Ashton to reclaim his berth on the right wing for England’s three-Test tour next month, though Marland Yarde will have some say about that.
But Cueto, once Ashton’s partner-in-crime on the England flanks, has backed the Sarries flyer to become Lancaster’s go-to man once more against the All Blacks.
“On paper he’s a straight swap for Nowell who has been on that right wing where Ashy was for that long, and now he’s injured he could step straight back in there,” he said.
“So thinking about it he probably will be first choice because though Marland Yarde is back playing, and Christian Wade is still not fit either, you’d say he would be.
“You often hear of managers and coaches talking about how important that bounceback is and not see players spit their dummy out and lose their form.
“And you can’t do any more than what Ashy has done.”
The tries had dried up for Ashton after a blistering start to his England career, with just three tries in 19 games across 2011 and 2012.
That did little to aid his cause but Cueto insists it took all of Ashton’s battling qualities to issue such a sharp retort to his critics.
“It’ll have been a huge disappointment to him to have been dropped, and even 12 months prior to him not getting picked, the press were putting so much pressure on him,” added Sale Shark Cueto, who was capped 55 times for England.
“They were saying he was out of form and shouldn’t be picked, so he’s probably had a lot of battles for longer than it appears really with that international setup.
“So credit to him, he’s had a good season which makes it easier on him.”
Mark Cueto was speaking at the launch of the Aviva Premiership Rugby Policy. Sign up for exclusive access to interviews and competitions at premiershiprugby.com/avivarugbypolicy