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Ashton still in Saints' plans

Northampton have not ruled out a return for England wing Chris Ashton against Harlequins next Friday after Saturday's 32-14 win at Newcastle emphatically got their Aviva Premiership title bid back on track.

Ashton missed the triumph at Kingston Park because of suspension, but that four-week ban ends in time for him to play against Premiership pace-setters Harlequins next Friday. Saints director of rugby Jim Mallinder is refusing to rule out a return for Ashton, whose future at the club is in doubt after his failure to sign a new contract with the club.

"Chris Ashton is still part of our squad and we've not washed our hands of him," said Mallinder after his side's win at Kingston Park. "He is still part of our squad and he's not signed for anybody else as far as I know."

Mallinder added: "We have a great group of lads and you just want players who want to play for you and it's as simple as that. You can't have superstars in your team, you just want players who want to play for you and that's what we want at Saints.

"Of course we will consider Chris for Friday night. Will we pick him? Maybe. He's not out of the equation. He's a quality winger and he still plays for us and we pay his wages."

Mallinder was delighted with the Saints' comprehensive victory over Falcons, with England full-back Ben Foden scoring tries at the start of each half before Soane Tonga'uiha was driven over for the third and former Falcon Tom May delivered the fourth try - and the bonus point - four minutes from time.

Victory sees Northampton leap from sixth to third and leaves Newcastle firmly anchored at the foot of the table, making next weekend's home game against Exeter a must-win for the Falcons.

Ryan Lamb kicked two conversions and two penalties and Stephen Myler also landed a conversion while Jimmy Gopperth kicked three penalties for Newcastle, adding to Suka Hufanga's first-half try.

"We're pleased with the win," added Mallinder. "It's about winning but you always want that extra point and we didn't get it last week. We got to three tries and didn't make it and that was frustrating. You have to keep playing to get that bonus point and it was pleasing to do that and to finish off like that."

Newcastle head coach Alan Tait said: "It was still to play for early in the second half, but you don't mind putting your hand up and admitting you've been beaten by a better team."

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