Toulon president Mourad Boudjellal has revealed that Chris Ashton backflipped on his release request, requesting to return to the French club. He explained the two sides are working through discussions and he is ‘hopeful’ that he will stay.
“Ashton asked to leave the club, then he asked to return,” he said during a Facebook Live chat.
“We hope that Chris Ashton will stay in Toulon. We are currently in discussion with him. We are in the midst of personal problems. There is no ultimatum about it.
“There are different issues – there is the family problem and there is the issue of selection. We want him to stay. The ball is in his court now.”
Boudjellal indicated that Ashton’s primary motive for returning to the Premiership is family related but also raised his national ineligibility. The 31-year-old’s move to Toulon from Saracens on a three-year deal ended any hope of playing for England again. With the showpiece Rugby World Cup around the corner, the lure of international play seems to be pulling the prolific try scorer back to compete for a World Cup spot.
His first season in France showed what kind of lethal finisher he can be, breaking the Top 14 try-scoring record with 24 in 23 matches. The flyer also demonstrated his ability for the Barbarians against England at Twickenham earlier this year, scoring a hattrick.
In the build-up to the Barbarians fixture, Ashton spoke of his displeasure at only having 39 caps and expressed his desire to play for England again one day.
“I went to France with an open mind and I still have an open mind. I’m enjoying it there, but I still feel good and would love to play for England again one day,” Ashton said last month.
“I did feel as though the door had been shut [by Jones] and it affected my confidence. I thought, ‘Why didn’t he need me in there, why wouldn’t he want me in there?’
“I had to go elsewhere to prove to myself and others that I can still do it, that I can do it in a different environment, a different league and do it well.
“The number of caps I have – 39 – annoys me. It’s a terrible number.”
It seems at least one Premiership club is interested in welcoming Ashton back, with newly promoted Bristol Bears happy to give him a shot. Bristol head coach Pat Lam, who coached Ashton at the Barbarians, explained there will ‘always be a place with me’.
“If this guy wants to come home, there will always be a place with me. I will be waiting,” Lam said.
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