Thursday 13 December 2018

Chris Ashton in line for England return after securing Toulon release to join Sale Sharks

31 March 2018; Chris Ashton of RC Toulon during the European Rugby Champions Cup quarter-final match between Munster and Toulon at Thomond Park in Limerick. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
31 March 2018; Chris Ashton of RC Toulon during the European Rugby Champions Cup quarter-final match between Munster and Toulon at Thomond Park in Limerick. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Andy Hampson

Chris Ashton has joined Sale after being released by Toulon, the Gallagher Premiership club have announced.

The former England wing was granted a release from the final two years of his contract with the French side due to family problems.

The move potentially opens up a route back to the England side for the 31-year-old, having been ineligible for international selection during his spell in the Top 14.

It also takes the former Northampton and Saracens player back to his native north-west, where he began his professional sporting career in rugby league with Wigan.

Ashton said in the statement: "This really feels like going home. I've always thought, in the back of my mind, that I'd return to the north to play rugby and I'm delighted to be joining Sale Sharks."

Ashton joined Toulon last year and enjoyed an outstanding first season in Top 14, setting a new try-scoring record of 24 in 23 games.

The move, however, had precluded him from adding to his 39 England caps under the Rugby Football Union's selection policy and there had been speculation he could be lured back to the Premiership.

Sale director of rugby Steve Diamond said: "Chris is obviously a world-class signing. Chris wanted to return to this country to fulfil his potential with England again, and we thought that he'd fit in well here.

"He's a multi-talented, superb professional who has experienced the benefit of the successful culture at Saracens."

Ashton, who had previously been out of favour with England coach Eddie Jones, made no mention of international ambitions himself.

He said: "In Toulon, I've added to the experience I gained at Saracens. There are many players at Sale Sharks with whom I'm looking forward to playing.

"I'm not coming to rest on my laurels. I feel I've got a lot of rugby left in me and would like to make an impact and help to take the club back to their winning ways of 2006."

Toulon confirmed that Ashton also had family reasons for wishing to return to England.

A statement read: "At the request of the player, Rugby Club Toulonnais decided to release Chris Ashton from the two years remaining of his contract.

"The English player was no longer in psychological condition to remain in France, and therefore with RCT, because of important family problems.

"RCT wishes Chris Ashton good luck in pursuing his sporting career."

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