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Chris Ashton - the timeline of a rugby enigma

By Paul Smith
Chris Ashton scores try against Connacht. (Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)

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Worcester Warriors have today confirmed English rugby’s worst-kept secret by announcing that Chris Ashton will leave the club.

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The former England winger has been absent from training for several weeks during which time the club’s management have declined requests to provide further explanation.

The 34-year-old rugby league convert whose England career began with a blitz of tries has enjoyed a colourful and at times controversial career.

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The Alex Ferguson of French rugby
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The Alex Ferguson of French rugby

2005 Signs for Wigan Warriors as an 18-year-old

Ashton played 52 times at full back or wing for rugby league’s Wigan Warriors in the Super League.

He came through Wigan’s scholarship programme and made his senior debut in the last match of the 2005 season.

He won four rugby league caps for England scoring three tries.

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2007 to 2012 – Northampton Saints

Ashton arrived at Franklin’s Gardens following the club’s relegation from the Premiership and scored against London Welsh on debut.

He went on to break the try-scoring record in English rugby’s second tier with a remarkable 39 scores in 25 appearances.

On a less positive note he received his first ban in 2008 for receiving three yellow cards.

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At the start of the 2009-10 season Ashton embarked on a sparkling run of form that brought 15 tries in 16 games in all competitions.

Martin Johnson called him up to the senior squad for the 2010 Six Nations after which he claimed his first international try against the Wallabies in Sydney.

His most memorable England moment soon followed when he scored twice for England against Australia at Twickenham with the second being a length-of-the-field effort.

 

Ashton scored four tries in England’s 2011 Six Nations rout of Italy before scoring against Georgia then claiming a hat-trick in England’s demolition of Romania in the 2011 World Cup which he finished as joint top try-scorer with Vincent Clerc.

The now 24-year-old was also making disciplinary headlines when he dragged Leicester’s Alesana Tuilagi into touch by his hair during the East Midlands derby and was subsequently handed a four-week ban.

Early in 2012 the Telegraph reported that Ashton had been involved in a training ground bust-up with Saints boss Jim Mallender and the winger soon took to Twitter to announce his intention to join Saracens.

His final Northampton record showed 33 tries in 51 games.

2012 to 2017 – Saracens

Saracens lost to Northampton in the 2013 Premiership semi-final and 2014 final before eventually lifting the trophy in 2015 by beating Bath.

Ashton’s strong performances throughout that title-winning season meant he finished in joint second place on the try-scoring tables with 13 scores.

During his first three years with Saracens he also picked up a one-week ban for a dangerous tackle on Saints winger Vasily Artemyev and in March 2013 was handed a further ban for his poor disciplinary record after being sin-binned five times in a season.

In April 2014 Ashton was reported to have sparked a half-time shoving match after he shouted ‘push it’ while Quins’ Nick Evans was taking a kick at goal.

Ashton’s best year in a Saracens shirt saw him play a big part in their 2015-16 Premiership title and European Champions Cup double when he started both finals.

And 12 months later Ashton helped Saracens retain their European Champions Cup title, scoring a try in the final against Clermont.

However, in January 2016 Ashton was handed a 10-week ban for a high tackle on Luke Marshall that involved him ‘making contact with the eye area’ of the Ulster centre.

A few weeks after his return the winger was heavily criticised for obstructing Bath’s Anthony Watson and shunting him towards airborne Saracens teammate Alex Goode who was poleaxed. Watson was sent off but new England coach Eddie Jones pointed the finger of blame elsewhere: “I didn’t like what Ashton did; I thought it was unsportsmanlike and that is something he needs to get out of his game,” he said.

Worse followed in September 2016 when Ashton was on the receiving end of his longest ban – 13 weeks – after reacting badly to some aggressive play at a ruck by Northampton’s Alex Waller who he was ruled to have bitten.

Details have since emerged of a £319,600 debt relating to the purchase of a property in Harpenden which Ashton owed to two Saracens directors. This has been cited as a significant factor in Saracens’ repeated breaches of salary cap legislation.

Ashton left Allianz Park in 2017 having scored 47 tries in 80 games.

2017-2018 Toulon

Ashton played a single season in the Top 14, scoring 24 tries in 23 appearances to break the try-scoring record previously held by Napolioni Nalaga.

He broke a three-year contract early to return to the UK after being linked with a return to the England squad following his hat-trick for the Barbarians against an England XV at Twickenham.

2018-2020 Sale Sharks

Ashton’s Sale career could scarcely have started on a worse note after he was shown a red card for a tip tackle on Castres scrum-half Rory Kockott during a pre-season friendly which earned him a six-week suspension.

After scoring six tries in 14 appearances spread across two seasons Ashton left the AJ Bell Stadium suddenly following what Sale DOR Steve Diamond described as “a disagreement on how we want to play the game.

“He wants to do it one way, I want to do it another and that’s it, so end of story,” Diamond added.

Ashton won the most recent of his 44 England caps against France in the 2019 Six Nations. He has 20 international tries and a 62.5 per cent win record in an England shirt.

2020 – Harlequins

Despite being described by Quins head of rugby Paul Gustard as “without doubt one of the most competitive, professional and dedicated athletes” Ashton only made seven appearances for the men from the Stoop scoring twice.

His mid-season departure was the subject of much speculation at the time.

2021 Worcester

Ashton made four appearances, scoring once for the Warriors before being declared ‘unavailable for selection’ by the club’s head coach Jonathan Thomas.

During this time he received a red card and six-week ban for a maul-entry offence against Northampton.

His subsequent departure has been announced three weeks after Ashton’s former Sale boss Diamond joined Worcester in a consultancy capacity.

He is currently third on the Premiership’s all-time list of try-scorers with 89, one behind Mark Cueto and just three short of equalling Tom Varndell’s record.

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