Chris Ashton could be the answer to England’s backs dilemma

The return of Chris Ashton to the Gallagher Premiership has lightened the hearts of English fans. After a thrilling season with Toulon in France, the former Saracen returns to English soil with Sale Sharks following his impressive season in the Top 14 in which he leaves France as the top try scorer for the season and scoring 130 points for his French side.

It was apparent that should Ashton come back home he would feature somewhere within the England set-up following his stunning three try display for the Barbarians against the men in white earlier this year.

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Ashton, who is now 31 and has 39 international caps for his country knows only too well how much of an opportunity Eddie Jones has given him by his inclusion into the Pre-Season England squad given that his last match for England was back in 2014 under Stuart Lancaster.

Ashton played fullback for the Barbarians in the summer and did excel, controlling the game and picking England’s poor defence to pieces. However, adding another player to the fullback position to me seems too much. Jones currently has four players he could call upon for the shirt.

Mike Brown will no doubt be his first point of call heading into the Autumn Internationals and then the World Cup campaign. Despite Brown’s slight lack of form at Harlequins recently, he very rarely puts a foot wrong at international level, you cannot fault his precision under the high ball, attention to detail and loyalty to the shirt, regardless of whether you like him as a player.

Anthony Watson, Elliot Daly and Jack Nowell can all play from the fullback position, though they are slightly less experienced in the role. However, Daly and Watson who are now regulars on an England team sheet could easily slot into the position if Brown was injured or replaced. Likewise, Ashton can theoretically do the same and if the decision was for him to be at fullback then this would appear the better option than starting him there.

Ashton’s versatility allows Eddie Jones to put his current players in their best position and slot Ashton in between. The most sensible solution would be to have Ashton on the wing, as we know this is where he can shine and play beautiful rugby. If you put him on the wing, then move Wasps’ Elliot Daley to outside centre, inside Owen Farrell which then settles the unanswered question of ‘who’s playing 13?’

Jones currently has many young backs shining in the Premiership all putting in strong performances for a place in the England squad, but with Ashton moving back to England presumably with the intention of pursuing his England career it would be a mistake to let him slip through the net once again.


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