Sport Rugby

Thursday 24 January 2019

Toulon trying to persuade Chris Ashton to stay despite his desire to return to England

Chris Ashton hopes to revive his England career
Chris Ashton hopes to revive his England career

Duncan Bech

Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal remains hopeful of persuading Chris Ashton to stay at the club despite the England wing's request to leave.

Ashton produced a stunning first season in the Top 14, setting a new try-scoring record of 24 in 23 games that has prompted him to re-evaluate his international career.

By signing a three-year deal to play in France he became ineligible for England selection, but Boudjellal has revealed that the pull of Twickenham combined with a "family problem" could see him return to the Aviva Premiership.

"(Ashton) asked to leave the club, then he asked to return," Boudjellal said during a Facebook live chat.

"We hope that Chris Ashton will stay in Toulon. We are currently in discussion with him. We are in the midst of personal problems. There is no ultimatum about it.

"There are different issues - there is the family problem and there is the issue of selection. We want him to stay. The ball is in his court now."

Ashton raised the possibility of returning to England in the build-up to the Barbarians' record-breaking victory at Twickenham a month ago.

To underline his expertise as a finisher, the 31-year-old ran in a hat-trick of tries against the team he served across 39 caps before being frozen out by head coach Eddie Jones.

"I went to France with an open mind and I still have an open mind. I'm enjoying it there, but I still feel good and would love to play for England again one day," Ashton said last month.

"I did feel as though the door had been shut (by Jones) and it affected my confidence. I thought, 'Why didn't he need me in there, why wouldn't he want me in there?'.

"I had to go elsewhere to prove to myself and others that I can still do it, that I can do it in a different environment, a different league and do it well.

"The number of caps I have - 39 - annoys me. It's a terrible number."

Bristol head coach Pat Lam, who guided the Barbarians last month, stated that Ashton would be welcome at the Bears.

"If this guy wants to come home, there will always be a place with me. I will be waiting," Lam said.

Even were he to return to these shores, Ashton's England recall is far from assured due to the presence of Jonny May, Anthony Watson, Jack Nowell, Elliot Daly and Mike Brown, all of whom are established wings under Jones.

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