Chris Ashton’s restless quest for late-career fulfilment goes on, with Worcester Warriors set to become his fifth club in the space of four years.
Having started out as a Wigan Warrior in rugby league, he is destined to finish as one in union.
After leaving Wigan to launch his cross-code adventure in 2007, the 33-year-old enjoyed lengthy spells at Northampton and Saracens, but lately he has moved around with remarkable regularity.
Worcester Warriors are set to become Chris Ashton’s fifth club in the space of four years
After a season of record- breaking exploits at Toulon in 2017-18, Ashton has been unable to stay fit and settled in order to satisfy his craving for tries.
He lasted 20 months at Sale and now appears to be on the brink of a sharp exit from Harlequins after just 10 months at the Stoop.
Worcester need a finisher urgently, to cure their unfortunate habit of creating chances but not taking them. So the acquisition of Ashton makes sense, if he is suitably driven to sign off his playing days with a flourish — and his trademark splash celebration.
A year ago, he was talking of wanting to become the first player to score 100 tries in the Premiership. He is currently on 88, after a lack of game-time and scoring returns during his fleeting stint at Quins.
That leaves him four behind Tom Varndell’s leading tally of 92 and having that milestone within reach should inspire him at Worcester.
Ashton scored 100 points in 44 appearances for England between 2010 and 2018
Ashton came home from Toulon after breaking the Top 14 try-scoring record for a season — touching down 24 times in 23 matches.
His feats suggested that the cross-Channel move was working as a therapeutic release after disciplinary problems during an otherwise successful period with Saracens.
He joined Sale after reviving his Test prospects with a hat-trick for the Barbarians against England at Twickenham, but the international door soon closed again, with a last appearance in February, 2019.
With hindsight, he might have stayed in France if he had known how it would pan out back in this country, but the rumours were that Ashton and his family had become homesick anyway.
Since losing the motivation of striving for higher honours, there has been a sense of career drift.
Ashton is also one of the game’s ultimate showmen, so the absence of crowds will have taken a toll. By nature, he relishes performing for an audience and generating adulation in packed stands.
It is impossible to overstate the impact he made when he first broke into the England squad under Martin Johnson. He was so prolific and his scoring routine so iconic that he transcended his sport for a time.
Since losing the motivation of striving for big honours, there has been a sense of career drift
He also drew admiration for the way he redefined the winger’s role, by tracking the play and having an innate ability to turn up in the right place to capitalise on an opening.
During the recent Autumn Nations Cup, the acclaim for Jonny May’s wonder try against Ireland led to a debate about its place in the pantheon of brilliant solo efforts at Twickenham. This, in turn, led to fond memories of Ashton’s classic, long-range masterpiece against Australia in 2010. That was the ultimate example of his art, but there are countless others.
He has always been a jovial character, but also very serious about his work. Here’s hoping he doesn’t just fade into retirement and that a move to the West Midlands will re-energise him.
And here’s hoping that Worcester — a club on the up again — can provide the platform for Ashton to reach his targets by surpassing Varndell and the three-figure threshold.
If he still has the drive left, he has enough time left.
France coach Fabien Galthie will be wishing the Top 14 clubs hadn’t filled the void created by European cancellations with a programme of rescheduled fixtures, as he comes to terms with the loss of another key figure from his national squad.
Racing 92 centre Virimi Vakatawa suffered a knee injury in his club’s 33-32 defeat against Bordeaux on Saturday and is now in danger of missing the whole Six Nations.
The Fiji-born player joins Romain Ntamack and Gregory Alldritt on the French casualty list and these are significant setbacks for Galthie. The injuries remove part of the spine of his preferred team — at number 8, 10 and 13.
But France have established remarkable depth. Bordeaux pair Matthieu Jalibert and Cameron Woki can serve as impressive reinforcements at fly-half and in the back row. Vakatawa can’t be replaced like-for-like, but Gael Fickou is another powerful midfield asset. France have established such momentum and confidence that, despite these injury disruptions, they remain only a fraction behind England as leading title contenders.
Virimi Vakatawa recieves treatment after suffering a knee injury against Bordeaux
Ed’s big chance to shine
What an opportunity for Ed Robinson this week and over the coming two months. Jersey’s young attack coach — the son of former England head coach Andy Robinson — has been called into Eddie Jones’ set-up for the Six Nations as Jason Ryles has stayed in Australia for family reasons.
Robinson Jnr is regarded as a promising innovator and that is what England need. There is vast creative potential within Jones’s squad but the trick is to unlock it, which is what Scott Wisemantel had shown a knack for doing before the Wallabies poached him.
Simon Amor has not had a similar impact in the attack role and if Robinson is able to contribute to a tactical liberation there is no reason why he can’t be involved for longer.
It is good to see Jones bringing a young Englishman on to his staff, just as he has brought more young Englishmen into his squad in the shape of Paolo Odogwu and Harry Randall. Recent form has been rewarded, which will inspire other Premiership players to raise their game.
The last word
Harlequins should move heaven and earth to lure Stuart Lancaster back from Leinster. The former England head coach is the ideal candidate to succeed Paul Gustard, given the nature of the overhaul required at the London club.
It is not just that Quins have a squad in transition, they also appear to need a cultural reboot. The job is made for someone with elite-level pedigree and experience, but also with the development instincts and vision to oversee a long-term project.
Lancaster would recognise the potential of a marquee club with a large catchment area, relatively stable finances and a strong fan base. He would be the right man to bring through talent and instil a winning mentality.
His current role has proved rewarding but the notion of developing English talent, across the road from Twickenham, could prove tempting — if Quins have the ambition and resources to approach him.