Ashton says England exile sparked Toulon move
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Chris Ashton has said the combination of his ongoing England exile and his treatment by rugby's disciplinary authorities prompted his decision to leave Saracens for Toulon.
The wing scored the only try of the match as Saracens beat the French side 10-3 in the pool phase of the European Champions Cup on Saturday.
Victory at their Allianz Park ground in north London saw reigning European champions Saracens book a home quarterfinal, although a star-studded Toulon will still join them in the last eight despite this defeat.
Ashton's score was the 29-year-old's fourth try in three starts since he completed a 13-week ban for biting, his second major suspension of 2016.
It was also a reminder of what the English game - and indeed England - will miss when Ashton joins Toulon for a reported £420 000 ($520 000, 485 546 euros) a year in June.
With England coach Eddie Jones upholding the Rugby Football Union's longstanding policy of refusing to select overseas-based players for international duty save in "exceptional circumstances", Ashton has effectively called time on a 39-Test career that has yielded 19 tries by moving to France.
The Australian boss did select Ashton, whose last Red Rose appearance was in 2014, in his first England squad.
But he was omitted after being banned for making contact with the eye area of Ulster's Luke Marshall and Ashton has been in the Test wilderness ever since.
"I was sick of leaving my international career in other people's hands," said Ashton, speaking publicly for the first time since completing his latest ban.
"The decision is always made by a coach and like any player who does not get in I disagreed with that decision.
"I hope I will play again [for England] one day, but for the time being I chose to go to play rugby abroad. I will never give up hope, but it makes it harder moving abroad.
"Saracens would rather I stayed, but they are very understanding people.
"You look at it from both sides and they understand my situation with England and how I felt towards being banned again."
Ashton ensured Saracens, who defended superbly in the closing stages, established a decisive lead over Toulon when he picked a line between New Zealand's Ma'a Nonu and Australia's Matt Giteau for a 60th-minute try.
"I tried not think about the fact I was playing Toulon. We were at home in a big game and I tried to concentrate on that," Ashton said.
Toulon were crowned champions of Europe for three successive seasons until Saracens dethroned them last term during a campaign where they also won the English title to complete a notable double.
The Cote d'Azur club, owned by wealthy comic publisher Mourad Boudjellal, enjoyed a poor season by their own standards in 2015/16 and that led them to dismiss coach Diego Dominguez.
The former Italy flyhalf was replaced by Mike Ford, who was previously in charge of English Premiership side Bath.
Ford said a defeat by French rivals Clermont had proved a turning point for Toulon, who enjoyed many of their most successful days when retired England great Jonny Wilkinson and former France coach Bernard Laporte were together at the Stade Mayol.
"We pretty much lost to Clermont and then we drew a line in the sand and said: 'Look, Jonny's [Wilkinson] not here any more, Bernard Laporte's not here any more and we can't keep living off the three cups we won'," Ford said.
"We've not won anything now for 18 months and we were in danger of going out of the pool stages of the Champions Cup. So we drew a line in the sand and it's been very good since."