Chris Ashton: Saracens and England winger to join Toulon

Chris Ashton
Chris Ashton is serving a 13-week ban for biting

Saracens and England winger Chris Ashton will join French Top 14 side Toulon at the end of the 2016-17 Premiership season.

The 29-year-old has scored 19 tries in 39 Tests but has not featured for the national side since Eddie Jones was appointed head coach in November 2015.

Ashton joined Sarries in 2012 and has won two Premiership titles and the European Champions Cup at Allianz Park.

"It will be a real wrench for me to leave," he said.

Ashton is serving a 13-week ban for biting and can play for Saracens again on 19 December.

The former Northampton player served a 10-week suspension earlier this year for making contact with the eye area of an opponent, which resulted in him missing England's Six Nations campaign.

After being overlooked for the summer tour of Australia by Jones, Ashton chose not to tour with the England Saxons in South Africa.

Ashton had said he intended to win back his England place on his return from his current ban, but a move to France would end any hopes of an international recall with the Rugby Football Union not picking players based outside the Premiership.

Former England fly-half Paul Grayson, who as Northampton coach recruited Ashton from rugby league side Wigan Warriors in 2007, told BBC Radio 5 live last week that a switch to Toulon would be "cathartic" for Ashton following his disciplinary issues.

"I'd like to put on record my thanks to [director of rugby] Mark McCall, our chairman Nigel Wray and the whole team at Saracens for the manner in which they have dealt with my request to join Toulon," Ashton added.

"I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at Allianz Park but I'm looking forward to a new challenge at Toulon next year."

McCall 'disappointed' with Ashton departure

Saracens have released Ashton from the final year of his contract to allow him to move to Toulon, and boss Mark McCall hopes he can make a "big contribution" for the north London club when he returns from suspension in December.

"We understand his reasons for wanting to go," McCall told BBC Radio 5 live.

"In our opinion the best place for him to be as a rugby player is here, but obviously he doesn't believe that.

"Chris made the decision that he was going to call time on his time at Saracens and seek a new challenge. It's disappointing for us but we will move on quickly.

"Chris has done a great job for this club over four and a half seasons and hopefully he can be part of something good again this year."

Analysis

BBC Radio 5 live rugby reporter Chris Jones

This draws a line under Ashton's international career - but in reality he was highly unlikely to play under Eddie Jones.

Ashton is serving his second long suspension of 2016 and, having pulled out of the Saxons tour in the summer, he has slipped way down the pecking order. This move is about him seeking a fresh start overseas.

Even though his England career has ended in an unsatisfactory way, at his best he was one of the top wingers in the world with a fine strike-rate.

His form for Saracens over the past couple of seasons indicates he will be a big hit at Toulon.

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