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With Wales reaching the semi-final of last year’s World Cup before collecting their third RBS 6 Nations grand slam in eight years this spring under Gatland’s tutelage – many expect the Red Dragons to dominate the Lions touring party, especially in the backs.
On the wings, 20-year-old George North and Alex Cuthbert have been in superb form in the Welsh red of late, but Bentley believes Saracens flyer Ashton has the X-factor to worry Australia.
“If you asked a team which one English winger would they not want to play against, they would say Chris Ashton, I am sure,” said Bentley, who is an SSE Rugby Energy ambassador.
“The Welsh are looking great, there’s going to be a lot of Welsh players within the squad. But importantly it’s all about taking players who are playing well at the time, who are in form. So we’re quite aware of if you are in form then you help your chances with the Lions.
“There’s all the season to look at but I’m sure Chris Ashton will certainly have his eyes on a trip down to Australia. I think his move will help freshen him up.
“And playing with some of the best players in the Premiership at Saracens – I think Chris is nailed on to be selected for the Lions and to make a significant mark Down Under.”
Ashton has not scored for England since the World Cup – a run which stretches nine games and is a far cry from the form with which he burst onto the international rugby union scene, with memorable tries against Australia home and away in 2010 before six scores in the 2011 RBS 6 Nations.
His drought also coincided with a somewhat unsavoury departure from Northampton, where he also stagnated towards the end of the season.
But 25-year-old Ashton has hit the ground running since his summer move to Saracens and he ran in three tries in his first two matches.
And Bentley believes his fellow cross-code convert is now well and truly out of his slump.
“I spoke about him last year and since coming across from rugby league to rugby union he’s done extremely well and is arguably the best finisher in world rugby right now,” added Bentley.
“But as often is the case that the first season is pre-season and you have to back it up second year, third year, fourth year.
“And he has done that and then some and I know everyone talked about a dip in form but even if he was enduring a bit of a dip then that seems well and truly behind him now he is in new surroundings with Saracens. It’s clear because of how he has started the season.”
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