Where veteran England winger Chris Ashton will next lay his hat has been up for the debate during the Gallagher Premiership circuit breaker this past fortnight. Soon-to-be 34, Ashton is currently at Harlequins where he has played just once in this season’s top-flight and was given the runaround by a carefree Racing attack in the Champions Cup.
Ashton popped up in London last March following an abrupt departure from the then-Steve Diamond coached Sale whom he joined in 2018 after a single season at Toulon.
Now unwanted by Harlequins beyond the end of this season, the speculation is that Ashton would jump at the chance to mend broken fences with Sale now that Alex Sanderson has been appointed their new director of rugby.
He would allegedly also be interested in returning to Northampton, the club he joined when he first crossed over to union from rugby league in 2007. It is also the place where Ashton is currently living since he was signed by Harlequins.
Last capped at Test level in February 2019, Ashton still an eye for the try line but The Rugby Pod have debated whether that reputation as a finisher will be enough for him to secure a deal for the 2021/22 Premiership season given that finances are tight at clubs and the preference might be to develop younger, less costly players.
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Show co-hosts Andy Goode and Jim Hamilton also wondered whether Ashton’s habit for breaking contracts could count also against him in a market where clubs in England have a salary cap that will be reduced by £1.4million next season.
What ensued was a lively debate and ultimately a plea from ex-England international Goode for some boss somewhere to do Ashton a favour and agree to a deal as he believed his talent still merited another chance. He is how the conversation unfolded:
AG: Chris Ashton, he’s basically phoning everyone and anyone to get out of Harlequins, I’ve heard.
JH: Desperate to go to Northampton is what I heard.
AG: I think that is where he living now again.
JH: That is where he is living now. It’s a difficult one for him – 34 (in March), he had an absolute shocker against Racing. He was awful but he is still a good player. He’s a winger and the thing now is you look at the profile of players and that list came out about the most well-paid players, the fly-halves and the second rows, with the poor hookers bottom of the food chain.
“Someone like Ashy, who is 34, can score tries, can’t catch a high ball – comes off his forehead – has been around the block a bit, and has left contracts. He left Saracens when he was under contract to go to Toulon. Left Toulon under contract, goes to Sale. Left Sale under contract. Is now at Quins and it looks like they are not going to offer him a longer deal.
“You’re thinking, well how much does a Chris Ashton want? Well, he’d want £200K, £250K. He might get offered £150K, a bit less. You think of young lads that come through now that are fast and are probably quite raw. You look at how Louis Rees Zammit came through as well.
“There are players like that coming through the system now so if you’re a Northampton or a Worcester or whoever, are you best placed to try and bring an academy player through and fill the void with the money that you have got – and money is tight – with a second row or pay your poor hooker, who is having to work as a binman on the side as well because he is that underpaid.
“Give him a little more money as well. Who’d be a hooker in any rugby team? The lowest-paid players. Who would have thought?
AG: The other thing is the way you described that Jim, not only how much does he [Ashton] want but how much does he want it as well.
JH: Are you questioning his desire from that Racing game?
AG: I’m not. You spelt it out that he left Saracens under contract. He left Toulon while under contract, he left Sale while under contract… that is the thing, do you want to spend a chunk of money on a player when you don’t know how long he is going to be there or not?
“In reality, the only two clubs that he in the UK would give everything for are Saints and Sale. He’d probably give everything to those clubs the last couple of years of his career perhaps if he goes for a couple of years, but he can’t get in the Quins team at the minute. Poor bloke.
“His last performance was bang average but he has got a hell of a track record at scoring tries. It’s a luxury to have him, isn’t it, being honest. I know he has been on the phone constantly to Alex Sanderson, he is phoning Mark Cueto up as well to get him to sign for Sale.
“He’s sorry for leaving, he wants his house back. He doesn’t want to live in Northampton anymore but then he does want to live in Northampton. He doesn’t want to play for Quins but then he does. Who knows? He didn’t want a break two weeks ago. Just give the lad a break. Someone give him a deal because it is good fun watching Ashy play.”
"I'm ready to walk through a wall now myself"
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 19, 2021
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