Worcester latest on 'unavailable' Ashton ahead of Diamond arrival
The last thing ex-England winger Chris Ashton could have imagined when he joined Worcester last January was that Steve Diamond, the coach with whom he had a major falling out with at Sale in February 2020, would arrive in the door at the Warriors as their new lead rugby consultant.
It is a position that will see Diamond act as a go-between between rookie head coach Jonathan Thomas and seasoned director of rugby Alan Solomons, and one of the first items likely in his in-tray when he officially starts work next Monday will be a resolution to the frustrating situation where it is rumoured that Ashton has been suspended by the club following an alleged bust-up with management.
The supposed acrimony is a far cry from ten months ago when Ashton was wheeled out for a media briefing on just his second day at Worcester having opted to leave Harlequins, even though he had a deal with the London club through to the end of the 2020/21 season.
“Some other players might not necessarily be in that mindset, they will stick with it and probably not play until the summer. I’m not that way. I have only got a short period of time left in my career and I need to take advantage of that. I didn’t want to miss the next six months of playing time when I could be helping elsewhere,” explained Ashton about his eagerness at the time to switch to Worcester.
Now, though, he has found himself stuck in a similar-type limbo, contracted through to the end of the 2021/22 season but not featuring in the team. It was nine weeks ago when Worcester boss Thomas originally dismissed there was an issue with Ashton, a rumour that had emerged via Andy Goode on The Rugby Pod.
"In terms of how it came about, I can’t answer that"
– With the Worcester stage set for Steve Diamond to start work next Monday, @heagneyl ??? has heard from Jonathan Thomas about the prospect of having a no-nonsense line manager #Warriors #GallagherPremhttps://t.co/tHPhJv769w
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 24, 2021
“Rumour has it, I have heard on the grapevine he [Ashton] ain’t happy, Worcester ain’t happy with him, he is going to be leaving there soon,” claimed Goode at the time. “I genuinely have heard that.” Thomas, though, quickly dismissed this at his weekly media briefing. “Who was it with the rumour? Andy Goode, I’ll have to give him a call after this,” quipped Thomas.
“Goodey likes to say ‘I’ve heard’ or ‘I have got a source’, he likes that one. He can just give me a call, he has got my number, he can call and ask me. He hasn’t done that. I have just hugged him [Ashton] on the training field, so what do you think?”
That hugging, though, appears to have stopped. It was at the end of October when Sportsmail reported that legal procedures were underway and the 34-year-old’s contract could be terminated after just four appearances for the club – all of them in February and March shortly after he joined.
Having earned the last of his 44 England caps in February 2019, Ashton has had his issues with injury at Worcester but they haven’t confirmed that his latest ongoing absence is injury-related. The club’s local beat newspaper reporter asked on Tuesday: “And my weekly question about Chris Ashton, will he be available this weekend?”
“No, Chris is unavailable for selection,” said Thomas, who was asked later in the briefing by RugbyPass did he at least have a message for Worcester supporters who must be looking at the Ashton situation with a sense of bemusement that they are not getting answers. “Unfortunately there is not. I just can’t comment. He is just unavailable for selection at this time and I can’t comment any further on that matter.”
Adding to the intriguing situation at Worcester is the imminent arrival of Diamond, the ex-Sale director of rugby who hurriedly offloaded Ashton to Harlequins nearly two years ago. It’s difficult to imagine then working together again given that Diamond explained in March 2020: “There is no situation, just 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 is it, so end of story.”
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