A BOISTEROUS pair of dwarves made short work of Wigan-born World Cup winger Chris Ashton.
In bizarre scenes at a New Zealand nightclub, the 24-year-old was set upon at an event described as a “Mad Midget Weekender” as he and teammates relaxed after their narrow opening game win over Argentina.
It was all harmless fun as far as the Northampton star was concerned as he fended off his two laughing assailants.
Pictures posted by the Queenstown bar on Facebook also show Ashton laughing as another two players piled on top of him.
But for all the mischief and concerns in some quarters about unnecessary off-field injury risks (some players have also been bungee jumping) it was his team-mate Mike Tindall who has made the headlines.
The Royal Family’s newest member was alleged to have got up close and personal with a blonde just six weeks after his wedding to Zara Phillips.
The England management have defended Tindall, Ashton and several others after Sunday’s night off and it is understood that, based on current reports, the Rugby Football Union do not plan on taking disciplinary action.
England manager Martin Johnson confirmed before the team left for New Zealand that he would not be imposing drinking bans on the squad.
“When I started playing rugby at senior level you were dealing with blokes,” Johnson said on the day of the team’s departure.
“They treated us like adults and there is no reason to change that now they are professionals and things are far more organised in the game.
“They are there to make sensible decisions - if I can’t trust them, there is a simple choice for us to make.”
Rich Deane, the manager of Altitude Bar which hosted the midget racing and other games, posted a message on their Facebook page defending the conduct of the England players.
He wrote: “Firstly: There was no dwarf throwing – that’s just not cool! Secondly: There was no scandal by any of the English rugby players that we saw. They were great lads, not throwing the midgets, it was all light-hearted good-humoured fun!”
Chris Ashton burst on the Wigan scene with two tries in the final game of 2005, and went on to score 23 further tries in 48 further appearances.
His electric performances lit up a dour 2006 campaign and put on rugby union’s radar, and he left midway through the following season to join Northampton.
A former St John Fisher High and St John Rigby College student, he still has strong ties to the area – his family still live less than a mile from where he learned his rugby skills at Orrell St James.