Chris Ashton has made an immediate return to the England fold following his summer move to Sale, having been included in Eddie Jones’s 44-man pre-season training squad.
Ashton has not played for England since the summer of 2014 and his international career appeared over following his move to Toulon at the end of last season. After a record-breaking campaign in France however, Ashton secured early release to return to the Premiership and reignite his England ambitions and it has immediately paid dividends.
Dylan Hartley also returns for the three-day training camp in Teddington after sitting out the summer tour against the Springboks due to concussion, while there is a first call-up for Michael Rhodes, the South Africa-born back-row who is now eligible on residency grounds.
It is Ashton’s recall that commands the most attention, however. The 31-year-old gave Jones a reminder of his form in May with a hat-trick for the Barbarians against England at Twickenham on the back of a record-breaking season with Toulon in which he scored 24 tries in the Top 14. Ashton was in Jones’s first England squad in January 2016 but two lengthy bans put him out of the picture. He also turned down the chance to tour South Africa with the Saxons in 2016, moving him further down the pecking order, but boasts an impressive try-scoring record for England with 19 in 39 matches.
“Chris is an exceptional player, I think we have seen with his form at Saracens, then at Toulon he has played exceedingly well,” said Jones. “He’s come back to England because he wants to play for England so he has got the right desire, the right attitude so it will be good to work with him.”
Jones meanwhile, has called up Rhodes at the first available opportunity. One of Saracens’ most consistent performers over the past couple of seasons, he was not eligible to tour South Africa but became eligible for selection in July and has been in contact with Jones in the past.
Hartley’s return is not a surprise, particularly considering England’s struggles in losing the first two Tests in South Africa, and he is joined by his new Northampton team-mate James Haskell. A number of players who missed the tour of South Africa are still not back, including Manu Tuilagi, Danny Care, Dan Cole, George Kruis and Jack Nowell. Brad Shields is also missing having just finished his Super Rugby campaign with the Hurricanes.
In Care’s absence, Dan Robson and Ben Spencer join Ben Youngs in the scrum-half ranks while Danny Cipriani keeps his place. Jones has also included Gabriel Ibitoye, Joel Kpoku and Jordan Olowofela, all of whom were part of the England Under-20 side that finished second at the Junior World Cup this summer.