Chris Ashton is still the winger with the best try-scoring record in England, but amazingly it is four years since he played for his country.
Now 31, Ashton knew he would never play for England again while he continued to ply his trade with Toulon in the south of France.
So, with the 2019 Rugby World Cup on the horizon, he realised it was time to have one final go at persuading England coach Eddie Jones to bring him back.
Chris Ashton revealed his determination to win a place in England’s 2019 World Cup squad
Chris Ashton has the best try-scoring record of all the wingers in England’s training squad
It all began to change at Twickenham in May. Ashton was selected for a stellar Barbarians side to face England.
After an encouraging chat with Jones before kick-off, Ashton ran riot, crossing for a hat-trick within 25 minutes.
He then negotiated an early release from his Toulon contract, believed to be worth £700,000 a year, to join Sale Sharks. Within weeks, Jones called Ashton into an England training squad.
‘Having played abroad in France maybe brought the best out of me in terms of my rugby and I still felt I had a lot to offer,’ said Ashton. ‘I didn’t want the opportunity of giving myself a chance of being involved with England with a World Cup around the corner to go amiss.’
Ashton’s recall to England’s squad last week was relatively low-key. There was no phone call from Jones. No heads-up.
Ashton simply received a phone notification last Thursday that he had been added to a WhatsApp group for England’s three-day training camp in Teddington over the weekend.
‘I was going to move house on Saturday,’ he said. ‘Thankfully, I moved it to Friday so I could get here. I had no idea it was coming. I am grateful of the opportunity to come back in.
‘It’s a step in the right direction. Every conversation with Eddie, and being around a team that has been so successful over the last couple of years, is a bonus.’
Ashton has not made an appearance for England since the 2014 Six Nations Championship
Ashton was a real force between 2010 and 2014, scoring 19 tries in 39 Tests and being dubbed ‘Ash the Splash’ before his England career went into freefall.
He was left out of Stuart Lancaster’s 2015 World Cup squad while bans for eye-gouging and biting derailed his hopes of a recall under Jones.
Fed up and feeling unwanted, he swapped Saracens for a fresh start with Toulon at the end of the 2017 season, where he flourished at full back and finished the campaign with a record 24 Top 14 tries.
No mean feat when you consider the talent that has graced the French league through the years: Rougerie, Clerc, Sivivatu and Heymans, to name but a few.
‘It’s a different culture and I am a better person and player for experiencing it,’ he said.
‘I loved the match days. Playing at home in Toulon is one of a kind and you don’t get it anywhere in Europe.’
The rugby league convert admits he would have spent the next five or six years playing with Toulon’s galacticos but for homesickness and unfulfilled England ambitions.
But for Wigan-born Ashton, his wife, Melissa, and their toddler daughter Ava Grace, the north of England was calling.
‘We both have big families and going out to France with a young baby and looking to have more babies, we found it harder than we anticipated,’ he said.
‘Although Toulon is not far away, it felt far away at times. We feel more settled back in England.’