Chris Ashton has been told by Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall that he has made the wrong decision by signing a three-year contract with Toulon.
Ashton’s request to leave Allianz Park at the end of the season has been granted by the double winners, who have received compensation for releasing him with a year left to run on his deal.
The 29-year-old is said to have grown disenchanted with life in the Aviva Premiership after this year serving bans totalling 23 weeks for biting and eye-gouging, while also realising any hope of adding to his 39 England caps has all but vanished.
McCall believes his professional and personal development would have been better served by staying at Saracens, who last season replaced Toulon as European champions, rather than being lured away by the riches on offer on the Cote d’Azur.
“Chris is almost 30 years old and this is probably a big opportunity to get a big contract,” McCall said.
“I can understand his reasons with the international door, in his own eyes, seemingly shut. I do understand his reasons for going and it’s disappointing from our point of view.
“You can see that people will look elsewhere as they get towards the end of their careers — probably not for rugby reasons. That’s understandable as people lose their international chances.
“But if you’re asking me if it’s the right move from a rugby point of view to develop his game or develop him as a person — it’s not. And I told him that, but he obviously doesn’t think that.
“His game has come on leaps and bounds at this club. This is the right club for him to grow as a player and as a person. It’s unfortunate that he’s decided what he’s decided.
“It’s disappointing because we wouldn’t have given him a two-year extension if we didn’t think there was more in him and more value he can bring to the club. He’s brought a lot of value during his five years here.”
That value comes in the shape of 38 tries in 69 appearances for Saracens, a strike rate that identifies him as one of the great finishers in Premiership history and the most prolific in the club’s history.
For England he crossed on 19 occasions and given they will only pick overseas-based players in exceptional circumstances, he is destined to not add to that number again.
He returns from his latest disciplinary lapse on December 19 and has pledged to empty the tanks in pursuit of helping Saracens defend their Premiership and Champions Cup titles, despite his impending departure.
“To confirm, I will leave one of the greatest rugby clubs in the world at the end of this season. This was easily the hardest decision I have had to make [and I’ve made a few],” Ashton said.
“I feel the experience and opportunity to play in France and opportunity to live in France was too good to turn down.
“I owe a debt of thanks to the club and management but most of all the Saracens fans. They have always been superb – the best I’ve played for.
“The focus remains on giving my all to Sarries for the remainder of the season.”
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