Chris Ashton has revealed that homesickness as well as the determination to relaunch his England career underpinned his decision to swap Toulon for Sale.
Ashton’s stunning form in his debut season in the French Top 14 that saw him set a new try-scoring record of 24 rekindled his international ambitions with the 2019 World Cup looming.
Being named in Eddie Jones’ pre-season training squad that gathered in London over the weekend edged him closer to his goal, although it was only when added to the squad’s WhatsApp group that he knew of his selection.
Also influencing the request to end his Toulon deal with two years still to serve, however, was the desire to return to the north west of England with his wife Melissa and daughter Ava.
“Playing in France was exactly what I thought it was going to be – a different culture and environment. I’m a better person and player for experiencing it,” the former Northampton and Saracens wing said.
“It was a great experience for me and my family but we also understood how much we appreciate our families at home.
“We both have big families and going out there with a young baby and looking to have more babies we found harder than we anticipated.
“Although Toulon is not far away, it felt far away at times. We definitely feel more settled back in England.
“It means quite a lot for me to be at home and with my family. There’s no other place in England I can relate going back to like that.
“I’ve been away for 11, 12 years so I felt it was a nice time to go back and play rugby up there.”
Once Ashton had resolved to return to England, his next task was to convince temperamental Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal to grant him early release from his contract.
“Mourad would have rather I stayed, but him and the club were good for me,” Ashton said.
“I’m grateful he was understanding of the situation and allowed me to return home. The only place I really wanted to go was Sale. They were with me throughout the process.”
It was before his appearance for the Barbarians against England in June that Ashton first made his intentions public and having agreed to join Sale he became available for selection under the rules set by the Rugby Football Union.
A blistering first-half hat-trick against the team he served over 39 caps issued a timely reminder of his finishing prowess and he spoke to Jones either side of the game.
“I was just hoping to play well against England for the Barbarians. I did see it as a good opportunity to… not send a message but play well to say I am still hanging around,” the 31-year-old said.
“Playing abroad in France maybe brought the best out of me in terms of my rugby and I still felt I had a lot to offer and have a good go at playing for England again.”