AS England bid to retain the Rugby World Cup in Paris tomorrow night, the national team's phen-omenal achievement once again has strong links to an East Lancashire college.

We look at head coach Brian Ashton's links to the area and the positive impact the team's participation could have on sport and activity in the community.

WHEN England rumbled to Rugby World Cup glory in Australia four-years-ago, the national team owed a debt of gratitude to three players who honed their skills on pitches in the Ribble Valley.

While it was Jonny Wilkinson's drop goal that stands as the defining image from that famous night in Sydney, Will Greenwood, Kyran Bracken and Iain Balshaw - all former pupils of Stonyhurst College - played a pivotal role in driving England towards the ultimate prize in rugby.

Although this time around it may not be the players who have ties to the Jesuit college at Hurst Green, Clitheroe, head coach Brian Ashton certainly does - thanks to the seven years he spent there as a teacher from 1980.

Ashton went to Stonyhurst as a history teacher after the head rugby coach and assistant bursar Richard Greenwood (father of Will) persuaded him to go down to the college.

And one of Ashton's former pupils revealed that many of the skills being practiced by the current England squad were devised on the pitches of Stonyhurst, a college where rugby still rules.

Richard Drinkwater, 34, originally from Chorley, was at Stonyhurst from 1984 to 1991 from the ages of 11 to 18.

He said: "When I first got there Brian was my rugby coach and he was my history teacher as well. In fact, he taught me 13th Century English history besides what he did out on the pitches.

"I always remember he wanted us to play an expansive game.

"He always wanted you to build up your skills as a player and your ball skills.

"I knew from his coaching that was where his first love was and I was not that surprised when he took the England job because he is a master tactician.

"He knows how to break teams down and he showed that against Australia and France.

"We had a flying winger and other creative players and he always encouraged us to try something and have it go wrong rather than not try anything at all.

"It was all about instilling belief in us and giving us confidence in our own abilities.

"When he took over in the Six Nations I spoke to Will Greenwood and the three things Brian always taught us at school were the things he was drumming in to the England team.

"He said that the ball always moves faster than the man so you either get in to space or create it for someone else and that's what he's teaching at international level."

Although Richard was not taught by Ashton for long, he still believes that the attitude and environment of the school is conducive to nurturing sporting talent.

Richard added: "There is an ethos at Stonyhurst that you play as a team and that the sum is more important than the individual parts.

"When you live with some one from the age of eight to 18 you form an understanding on the rugby pitch and I think that accounts for a lot of the success.

"We were all Catholic and there for the same reason and it just really binds you together."

Following his stint at the college, Ashton took up a teaching role at King's Bruton College in Somerset before becoming backs coach at Bath RUFC under Jack Rowell.

When Rowell took up the England post, Ashton became Bath coach followed by an ill-fated stint with Ireland before joining England as an assistant under Clive Woodward and eventually taking over earlier this year.

And staff at Stonyhurst expressed their pleasure at seeing Ashton and England reaching the final against the odds.

Jonathan Hewat from the college said: "We are enormously proud to be associated with Brian and we wish them all the best and hope they can repeat what they did four years ago when our former pupils were involved."