London - England
wing Chris Ashton is to leave Saracens for French side Toulon at the
end of the season, the English Premiership and European champions
announced Tuesday, in a move that could end his Test career.
A club statement said Ashton, currently suspended for biting, would
join the star-studded Toulon squad for the 2017/18 campaign after five
seasons with the London side where he became the team's leading try
scorer and won two Premiership titles and a European Champions Cup.
The move appears to end the 29-year-old's hopes of an international
recall given England's refusal to select overseas-based players for Test
duty save in "exceptional circumstances".
"We would like to thank Chris for his contribution to Saracens over
the last five seasons and the role he played in helping us create some
incredible memories during that period," said Saracens director of rugby
Mark McCall in the club's statement.
In September, Ashton, famous for his 'Ash Splash' try celebration,
was given a 13-week ban by England's Rugby Football Union for biting
Northampton's Alex Waller.
That suspension came after former Northampton flyer Ashton blew his
bid for a Six Nations recall earlier this year due to a 10-week ban for
making contact with the eye/eye area of Ulster centre Luke Marshall in
In both cases Ashton felt he had had been treated unfairly and there
have been reports he had become disillusioned with the English game as a
Ashton has scored 19 tries in 39 Tests, including a stunning length of the field effort against Australia at Twickenham in 2010.
But the former rugby
league star has not played England under Eddie Jones, following the
Australian coach's appointment last year, with his most recent
international appearance in June 2014.
He had indicated a desire to resume his England career but this now
appears to have been scuppered by his decision to move to France's Top
"I'd like to put on record my thanks to 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 next season. I have thoroughly
enjoyed my time at Allianz Park and I have made so many special
memories on and off the field," said Ashton.
"I have developed as a player during my time with Sarries but more
importantly I have developed as a person, and I will always be indebted
to the club for that.
"My focus now is helping the squad prepare for Leicester Tigers on
Saturday, contribute to the side when I return to action later this year
and hopefully make a few more memories together in a black and red
Ashton will be leaving a year before his current Saracens contract is
due to expire. He will join Toulon on a deal that is set to keep him at
the southeast club until 2020.
In moving to France, Ashton is following in the footsteps of his
former Saracens team-mate and ex-England wing David Strettle, now at
Toulon's Top 14 rivals Clermont.
Ashton is due to return from his latest ban on December 19 and, had
he avoided suspension, he might have been in England's squad for their
end-of-year Tests at Twickenham following injuries to fellow wings Jack
Nowell and Anthony Watson.
"Chris will still have an important role to play this season and
we’ll look forward to seeing him back in action after his suspension,”
Toulon, themselves three-times European champions, were defeated by
Saracens 31-23 in the first round of group matches in this season's
European Champions Cup.