Chris Ashton has revealed he is set to play at full-back for Sale following his move back to the Premiership, less than a week after Eddie Jones handed him an England recall and claimed that being on the wing was his best position. Ashton does not believe swapping between the two positions will be a problem but the contrasting views of club and country further highlight the limitations of the English structure.
Ashton won an immediate place back in the England fold when named last week in Jones’s pre-season training squad – a return so out of the blue he was forced to change his plans to move house. Ashton, who spent large spells of his season with Toulon at full-back, did not learn of his call-up until the morning of the squad announcement, when he was added to a Rugby Football Union WhatsApp group.
On the same day, Jones said that despite the fact that Ashton spent large spells of his record-breaking season with Toulon at full-back, “I don’t think full-back is his best position, I think wing is his best position”. With Marland Yarde and Denny Solomona already among the wingers at Sale, however, Ashton expects to wear the No 15 jersey for most of the coming campaign.
“I have heard Eddie said [he sees me as a wing],” Ashton said. “I will more than likely fit in at full-back at Sale. I honestly don’t mind. I enjoyed my time at full-back at Toulon. It gave me more opportunities but I played full‑back like a winger. On many occasions I swapped positions and stood on the wing.”
Ashton’s return to the Premiership will be seen by the RFU as further vindication of its policy to consider players based outside England unavailable – a key part of its agreement with the clubs. Compared with countries that employ central contracts, though, that agreement goes only so far.
Jones said last week: “We can have discussions about what position a player should play but the coaches get paid to make their clubs win. It’s not like the provinces in New Zealand or Australia or South Africa where they have a responsibility to the national team.”
Ashton, meanwhile, believes he returns to England an improved player after scoring 24 tries in the Top 14 to set a French domestic record. “I am a better person and player for experiencing it. Without winning a trophy it went as well as it could have done and it filled me the confidence again. But as the year went on the more I realised I didn’t want the chance of being involved with England, with a World Cup around the corner, to go amiss.”