9 Nov 2018

Ashton back and ready to make a Twickenham splash

11:59 am on 9 November 2018

Chris Ashton has taken the long way round back to the England team but timed his return just right as he prepares to start his first international for four years against New Zealand in the most eagerly awaited fixture of Eddie Jones's tenure.

Chris Ashton

Chris Ashton Photo: Photosport

Following his conversion from rugby league in 2007, Ashton was at the peak of his powers when he delivered a classic "Ash Splash" try in the famous 2012 Twickenham victory over the All Blacks as his ability to sniff a try from all over the pitch made him one of the most prolific players in the game.

In the following years, however, his international star began to wane as a combination of injury, suspension and coach opinion meant he dropped down the pecking order and he missed the 2015 World Cup, having scored six tries in the 2011 edition.

Still a devastating finisher as he helped Saracens to European and domestic glory, two bans hamstrung his England hopes in 2016 and he appeared to have called time on international rugby when he joined French club Toulon in 2017 - ruling him out of England selection.

However, Ashton decided he still wanted a tilt at the 2019 World Cup, cut short his French sojourn and returned to his northern English homeland to join Sale this year.

As a nudge to Jones, Ashton lined up against England for the Barbarians in a non-cap match in May and scored a spectacular hat-trick as the touring team handed out a 63-45 thrashing.

His hopes of building on that with a strong showing for Sale were derailed before the season had begun, though, as he incurred a seven-week ban for a dangerous tackle in a friendly game.

Jones, despite his oft-quoted mantra of picking on form, kept him in his training squads for the November internationals and, in his only appearance for his new club so far, he scored a hat-trick in a European Challenge Cup win over Connacht.

Initially overlooked for last week's game against South Africa, the 31-year-old was added to the bench after Manu Tuilagi withdrew and Ashton raised one of the biggest cheers of the day when he entered the fray 15 minutes from the end of England's 12-11 victory - earning his first cap for four years.

Jones obviously enjoyed the cameo too as on Thursday he named him to start against New Zealand, with Jack Nowell dropping to the bench.

The coach played down the switch, insisting it was merely a "change of order", but that won't stop Ashton enjoying walking out with the number 14 shirt on his back.

"Against New Zealand the 80 minutes are important," Jones said. "Jack has got an incredible work rate so we feel he'll be enormously valuable for us in the last 20 minutes.

"But Chris can sniff a try from anywhere. To beat New Zealand you have got to score tries. He's in good form and has looked sharp, so we've given him the nod to start."