“This really feels like ‘going home’. I’ve always thought, in the back of my mind, that I’d return to the North to play rugby and I’m delighted to be joining Sale Sharks.” Ashton said.
“They have developed an increasingly strong squad, including Jono Ross, whom I remember in his younger days at Saracens. He left and has become a considerably more mature player!
“I’m not coming to rest on my laurels: I feel I’ve got a lot of rugby left in me and would like to make an impact and help to take the club to their winning ways of 2006.”
Sale Sharks’ Director of Rugby Steve Diamond added: “Chris is obviously a World class signing. When we were looking around, following the announcement of the return of Rohan Janse van Rensburg, we wanted to keep the makeup of our Back Three as exciting as we can.
“Chris wanted to return to this country to fulfil his potential with England again, and we thought that he’d fit in well here.
“He’s a multi-talented, superb professional who has experienced the benefit of the successful culture at Saracens.
“We look forward to giving him a warm welcome in a fortnight’s time. He’ll join the exciting players already at the club and if we secure another two or three of our forward targets, we’ll have a squad capable of reaching a top four placing.
“We’ll continue to offer our supporters top-level entertainment at the A.J.Bell Stadium.”
The confirmation comes just hours after Toulon announced that they’ve agreed to release the 31-year-old.
“At the request of the player, Toulon have decided to release Chris Ashton from the remaining two years of his contract. Ashton was no longer in a psychological condition to play in France and with Toulon due to important family problems”, the Top 14 club said in a statement.
After a record-breaking season in France that concluded with a starring role for the Barbarians in their win over England at Twickenham, he had been strongly linked with a return as Sale Sharks his destination as reported by RugbyPass last week.
With Ashton keen to push his case for inclusion in the England team at the Rugby World Cup next year and Mourad Boudjellal’s recent comments that Ashton’s future was in the player’s own hands, the writing was on the wall regarding a return to the Premiership.
The former Saracens and Northampton Saints man played in the unaccustomed position of full-back for Toulon last season and still managed to break the Top 14 try scoring record, crossing the whitewash 24 times, five times more than closest rival Nemani Nadolo and three more than the previous record, which was held by Napolioni Nalaga.
It is those performances which have prompted Sale to move, with RugbyPass understanding that they see Ashton as an option at 15, especially with both Denny Solomona and Marland Yarde already in the mix on the wing. Ashton will help fill the void created by Mike Haley’s and Will Addison’s departures to Ireland.
The move will once again make him eligible to play for England, although he will have a fair amount of competition to win a spot in the wider squad, let alone the matchday 23.
Jonny May and Mike Brown both did their stock no harm in South Africa this summer, whilst Elliot Daly had the free pass of adapting to a new position at international level. Both Anthony Watson and Jack Nowell will be available again next season, too, whilst he will also need to beat out soon-to-be club teammates Solomona and Yarde.
He will, however, add to the options in Eddie Jones’ arsenal and if he can replicate his Toulon form from last season, there’s no reason why he can’t push himself into contention.