Saracens have announced that Chris Ashton will join Toulon at the end of the season, a move that has been questioned by Director of Rugby Mark McCall.
The winger, who is currently serving a 13-week ban for biting Northampton’s Alex Waller, has grown disillusioned with English rugby and has signed a 3-year-deal for the French club.
Ashton said: “I’d like to put on record my thanks to Mark McCall, Nigel Wray and the whole team at Saracens for the manner in which they have dealt with my request to join Toulon next season. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at Allianz Park and I have made so many special memories on and off the field.
“I have developed as a player during my time with Sarries but more importantly I have developed as a person, and I will always be indebted to the Club for that.”
Despite winning his last England cap over two years ago, the 29-year-old said that it will be difficult to leave his current club.
“There is a tremendous culture at Saracens and the bond between everyone here is very tight. It will be a real wrench for me to leave all that behind at the end of the season but I’m looking forward to a new challenge at Toulon next year. My focus now is helping the squad prepare for Leicester Tigers on Saturday, contribute to the side when I return to action later this year and hopefully make a few more memories together in a black and red shirt.”
McCall told the club website: “We would like to thank Chris for his contribution to Saracens over the last five seasons and the role he played in helping us create some incredible memories during that period. Chris will still have an important role to play this season and we’ll look forward to seeing him back in action after his suspension.”
However speaking to the press the Irishman opened up on the subject.
“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, I think it’s not and I told him that. But he obviously doesn’t think that,” he said.
New Toulon boss Mike Ford will welcome the addition of Ashton to the Stade Mayol next season but clearly McCall was upset at the departure of one of his most important players.
“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. I understand his reasons for going as well. That international door in his eyes seems to be shut. And clearly there is probably another reason as well, and that’s the way it is.”
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