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Saracens and England wing Chris Ashton needs just one score in Saturday’s semi-final clash with ASM Clermont Auvergne at Twickenham to match the 17-year-old record for tries in a Heineken Cup campaign.
His brace in the tense last-eight victory over Ulster Rugby at Ravenhill steered the Aviva Premiership leaders into their third semi-final and maintained his prolific form, bringing his tournament tally to 10.
Of course Twickenham will be something of a home-from-home for Ashton, who has scored half of his 18 Test tries at the venue. He also picked up a trademark five-pointer in last year's quarter-final win over Ulster Rugby at the home of England Rugby, but couldn’t find another in the disappointing semi-final defeat to Toulon.
Now Saracens are back for another crack at reaching the Heineken Cup final, hoping it will be third time lucky. In 2008 they were beaten in Coventry by Munster, while last season it was Jonny Wilkinson's boot that kicked them out.
That was one of two cruel defeats in the final four of major competitions and Ashton is the first to admit that the pain felt at the end of last season brought about a change in approach and attitude for this campaign.
“We've moved on a big step from last year,” he explained. “We've tried hard to be more attacking. Last year, when we lost in the semis of both the Heineken Cup and the Premiership, we spoke about changing things and we realised we needed to adapt to get better.
“From pre-season we started working on playing a different way, on getting the forwards carrying more and being more confident, and just having more knowledge of the game rather than being stuck in a very structured system."
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The record Ashton is chasing was set back in 1996/97 by Brive's Sebastien Carrat, who marked his Heineken Cup debut with four tries against Neath and ended his first campaign with a brace in the French side’s comprehensive final victory over Leicester Tigers at the National Ground, Cardiff Arms Park.
Carrat's 10 tries came in seven games, with further tries coming against Caledonia (2),
Harlequins and Ulster as Brive swept all before them to win the title without losing a game.
Since then, the only player to get close to Carrat's record was Swansea and Wales wing
Matthew Robinson, who scored nine tries in the 2000/01 season when the All Whites reached
the quarters. His tally included a four-score haul against London Wasps, a brace against
L'Aquila home and away and a ninth against Wasps in the return match.
Ashton, who is this season's leading try scorer in the Heineken Cup, marked his first season at
Saracens with four Heineken Cup tries and this term has overtaken Chris Wyles (8) as the club's leading try scorer in the tournament with 13 in 15 outings.
He has only failed to score in one of his games this season – against Toulouse at Wembley
Stadium – and has picked up three against Connacht, three against Zebre, one in Toulouse and
two in the quarter-final.
Photo: Getty Images
His previous best return in Europe was the seven tries in six games when Northampton Saints
won the Amlin Challenge Cup in 2008/09 and has now scored 28 tries in 38 European games for Saints and Saracens, boasting 21 Heineken Cup tries in 32 games.
Carrat's 10 tries in one season was equalled by London Wasps wing, Tom Varndell, in the Amlin Challenge Cup in 2009/10.
Clermont wing Napolioni Nalaga, who scored in last season's Heineken Cup final defeat against Toulon in Dublin, will also have a try landmark in sight as he chases down the two tries he needs to become only the seventh player in tournament history to qualify for an ERC Elite Award for scoring 25 tries.
Heineken Cup leading try scorers by season
1995/96 14 players 2
1996/97 Sebastien Carrat (Brive) 10
1997/98 7 Kenny Logan (London Wasps) 7
1998/99 3 players 7
1999/00 3 players 5
2000/01 Matthew Robinson (Swansea) 9
2001/02 Ugo Mola (Castres Olympique) 7
2002/03 Vincent Clerc (Toulouse), Garan Evans (Llanelli) 7
2003/04 Nicolas Brusque (Biarritz), James Simpson-Daniel (Gloucester) 6
2004/05 Shane Horgan (Leinster) 8
2005/06 3 players 6
2006/07 Clement Poitrenaud (Toulouse), Paul Sackey (London Wasps) 7
2007/08 4 players 5
2008/09 Brian O'Driscoll (Leinster) 5
2009/10 Tommy Bowe (Ospreys) 7
2010/11 Paul Diggin (Northampton Saints) 6
2011/12 Timoci Matanavou (Toulouse) 8
2012/13 Naipolioni Nalaga (ASM Clermont Auvergne) 8
Tickets for Saturday’s Heineken Cup semi-final at Twickenham are still available to buy via Ticketmaster.co.uk or over telephone: 0844 844 0444 (UK) and 0044 161 385 3211 (outside UK)