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Chris Ashton joins Danny Cipriani in returning from England exile as Eddie Jones names wing in 44-man squad

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 03/08/2018 Daniel Schofield
a close up of a man jumping in the air: Chris Ashton made a big impression against England playing for the Barbarians © getty images Chris Ashton made a big impression against England playing for the Barbarians

One by one the black sheep are returning to the fold. After ending Danny Cipriani’s exile from international rugby over the summer, England head coach Eddie Jones has now selected prodigal son Chris Ashton in his pre-season training camp.

The wing, who joined Sale Sharks this summer from Toulon where he finished as the leading tryscorer in the Top 14, was named in a 44-man party which will convene in Teddington over the weekend. Also included are Saracens' South African flanker Michael Rhodes, who qualified for England on residency grounds last month, and hooker Dylan Hartley, who missed the summer tour to South Africa through concussion. Jones believed that his former captain only had a 50-50 chance of resuming his career. 

Chris Ashton © Getty Chris Ashton

“Like any of those head injuries, it’s touch and go,” said Jones, who did not confirm whether Hartley will regain the captaincy from Owen Farrell in the autumn. “You never know when you’re going to recover and how well you’re going to recover, and given the way, medically, they’re looked after now, it’s always a flip of the coin.”

Ashton, who has scored 19 tries in 39 Tests for England, will be equally relieved. The 31 year-old walked away from a £700,000-a-year contract at Toulon, where he was unavailable for England selection, for a shot at playing in the 2019 World Cup in Japan. There is a world of difference between selection for a pre-season training camp and a full international, but as he demonstrated by scoring a league record 24 tries for Toulon, all Ashton needs is the slightest sniff of an opportunity. 

He further underlined his predatory prowess in front of Jones by scoring a hat-trick in the Barbarians’ 63-45 victory against England in May, which set the wheels in motion for Ashton’s move from the Mediterranean for Manchester.

a person standing in front of a crowd: Chris Ashton chats with Eddie Jones during England's Barbarians clash - Credit: pa © Provided by Telegraph Media Group Limited Chris Ashton chats with Eddie Jones during England's Barbarians clash - Credit: pa

“Before the Barbarians game, we had a quick chat and he had a bit of a glint in his eye, which indicated something, and that something was that he wanted to come back to England,” Jones said. “I think he had the idea in his head. It shows a lot about his desire and wanting to play for England and those are the sorts of players we want.”

Ashton had been selected in Jones’ first Six Nations squad as England head coach, back in January 2016, only to receive a 10-week ban for gouging Ulster’s Luke Marshall. After choosing not to join that summer’s Saxons tour and then picking up a further 13-week ban for biting Northampton prop Alex Waller, Ashton fell further down the pecking order, precipitating his move from Saracens to Toulon in 2017. Jones, however, denied the perception that his face did not fit his regime.  

a group of people playing football on a field: Michael Rhodes in action for Saracens - Credit: Getty images © Provided by Telegraph Media Group Limited Michael Rhodes in action for Saracens - Credit: Getty images

“Not as far as I was concerned,” said Jones, who also confirmed he will be selected as a wing rather than a full-back. “The best part of his game is his support play. He has outstanding support play. How he fits into selection will depend on who else is available.”

Two further wings, Harlequins’ Gabriel Ibitoye and Leicester’s Jordan Olowofela, are among three uncapped players, alongside Saracens’ Joel Kpoku, who featured in this summer’s World Under-20 Championship final. “They are punts for us,” Jones said. “Sometimes you just roll the dice and hope your number comes up.”

The youthful feel to the squad is heightened by the absence of 80-cappers Danny Care and Dan Cole, both fit but deemed by Jones to be in need of a full club pre-season to get their “spark” back.

Leicester centre Manu Tuilagi is also included on the absentees list after undergoing a minor knee operation, but is expected to be fit for the start of the Gallagher Premiership. 

England face a daunting autumn series against South Africa, New Zealand, Japan and Australia, but after arresting a six-game losing run with a 25-10 victory against the Springboks in June, Jones is raring for the challenge ahead.

“I think the third year is always difficult,” Jones said. “It was exacerbated by the fact that we had a number of players in the Lions tour. It is 12 months until the World Cup. Everyone has a clear target in mind and it’s bloody exciting. I couldn’t be more excited.”

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