Chris Ashton: Sale winger ‘feels like a new player’ after England recall


Chris Ashton (second left) trained with his England colleagues on Sunday

Sale winger Chris Ashton says he never expected to be back in the international set-up so soon after returning to England.

The 31-year-old has not played for England since 2014, but was named in a 44-man training squad on Thursday.

It comes after he secured an early release from French Top 14 side Toulon to join Premiership side Sale.

“It’s a strange feeling. I feel like a new player and I’m happy to be back in the group,” he told BBC Sport.

“I wasn’t supposed to be back in England. When I went to France I thought that was it for me and I could spend the next few years in France enjoying rugby.

“The season went really well and I enjoyed it, but the more the year went on the more I wanted to be back here and back in this environment.”

‘It was tougher than we thought’

Former Saracens player Ashton broke the Top 14 try-scoring record last season, with 24 tries in 23 appearances, but left Toulon just one season into a three-year contract.

“It bothers me to think I only did a year at it,” he said.

“I thought I was open-minded, but not enough. Maybe it wasn’t meant to be, and maybe the whole purpose of it was for me to do a year. I hope that anyway.

“Pretty quickly my wife and I realised it was going to be tougher than we thought. We went over with a nine-month-old baby. We both have big families and we’re both very family orientated.

“I did very much enjoy the rugby, but family comes first and if we’re not happy at home it’s not much use.”

Chris Ashton has scored 19 tries in 39 appearances for England

‘It always bothered me not being involved’

Wigan-born Ashton was part of Eddie Jones’ first England squad in 2016, before serving bans for biting and eye-gouging.

After impressing in France last season, he scored a hat-trick for the Barbarians against England in May and has been rewarded with a place at a three-day training camp in Teddington.

“I missed playing for England,” he said. “It was tough to watch being in England, and I hoped when I moved to France that would go away but it didn’t. I always wanted to be part of it.

“I’m the kind of person that has to learn for myself. I do things and then learn later. I made the decision I wanted to go and try and I did that.

“It’s always bothered me not being involved, but I hope I’ve got a couple of good years left yet at it.”

With just 14 months until the World Cup in Japan, Ashton says the tournament has always been on his mind.

“The day the World Cup isn’t on my mind is probably the day I stop playing,” he said.

“It’s what everyone wants to win and being in France and seeing that opportunity go by would’ve been tough for me to take. I couldn’t accept that.

“Even if I don’t get in and I don’t play for England, at least I’m giving myself the best opportunity.”

‘I can’t focus on other people’

Ashton, who played the majority of his games for Toulon at full-back, is seen as a winger by England head coach Jones.

It is a position of real depth in the England squad – including players such as Jonny May, Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson, Mike Brown and Jack Nowell – but Ashton says he is not afraid of the competition.

“I’m not bothered where Eddie Jones sees me as long as I get a chance and I get a game I’m happy wherever that is,” he said.

“This is just a small step in the right direction being allowed into the camp for two days and I just hope it carries on.

“We have got some really talented players in the back three but it’s down to me really and I can’t focus on other people. I’ve got to focus on what I’m personally going to do for my team.”



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