Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby

Chris Ashton still has international future insists Saracens' Mark McCall

Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall refuses to view Chris Ashton's decision to turn down a place on the England Saxons' tour to South Africa as the end of his international career.

Will Carling has raised that prospect in response to Ashton rejecting a spot among the second string following his shock omission from the 32-man senior squad bound for Australia next month.

Ten tries in eight matches since completing the 10-week ban that forced him to miss England's Grand Slam triumph has failed to convince coach Eddie Jones that the 29-year-old is ready to add to his 39 caps.

Instead, Ashton was offered a route back into international rugby - his last appearance was in New Zealand two years ago - via the Saxons tour, but this was rejected on the grounds that his partner is due to give birth to their first child this summer.

McCall insists he is right to stay at home, claiming his "head wouldn't have been in the right place" had he gone to South Africa.

"Chris is playing too well and is too young and hungry for this to be the end of his England career," McCall said.

"Eddie has shown he is prepared to give people second chances and that they can change his mind quickly. Consistent form will hopefully get him back in there.

"I had a conversation with Chris - a few of us did - but he's a big boy and has weighed everything up.

"He has made a decision that Saxons is not for him on this occasion and that's for him really.

"He felt that he wouldn't have been in the right place to support the team as well as he could be. And that is a courageous decision.

"His wife is expecting and is due to give birth towards the end of June, so for all sorts of reasons Chris's head wouldn't have been in the right place, so it was probably best that he didn't go. I think if he had been picked for Australia he would have gone."

Jones stated at Sunday's squad announcement that omitting Ashton in favour of Marland Yarde was an easy call based on his shortcomings in defence, adding that he is not among the best three wings in England.

"Chris has improved hugely in defence, along with his kicking game, after they were questioned this time last year," McCall said.

"We are very happy how he is defending with us, but England see it differently.

"He was picked ahead of Marland Yarde for the Six Nations before he was suspended. At that point they were concentrating on what he brought, not what he didn't bring. Clearly that's changed."

England on Tuesday received mixed news on the injury front with Manu Tuilagi ruled out of the Australia tour just a few hours before McCall revealed Owen Farrell is expected to play in Saracens' Aviva Premiership final against Exeter on Saturday.

Tuilagi sustained a hamstring problem in Leicester's league play-off defeat at Allianz Park and will miss the three-Test series with a replacement to be named after Sunday's pre-tour showdown with Wales.

"It's bad luck for Manu so close to the tour, but it provides a great opportunity for someone else. We wish Manu all the best and a quick recovery," Jones said.

Tuilagi's withdrawal is the latest setback for a player whose injury record is beginning to make grim reading.

In January he returned from a 15-month absence due to a groin problem and his comeback since has been interrupted by two separate hamstring complaints and a knee complaint.

Leicester director of rugby Richard Cockerill repeated his opposition to the artificial surface at Allianz Park immediately after Tuilagi had torn his hamstring, resulting in a feisty response from McCall.

"It was a foolish thing for Richard to say about Manu's injury, which happened 18 minutes into a match," McCall said.

"Maybe they should look at themselves as to why a player pulled a hamstring so early in a game like that. Maybe he wasn't fit in the first place."

Farrell suffered a rib injury against Leicester, leading to fears over his involvement against Australia, but is expected to be given the all clear to play in the Twickenham final this weekend.

"Owen's fine. He's got bit of an issue with his side and didn't train on Tuesday, but he'll be fine. He'll be training on Thursday," McCall said.


From Belfast Telegraph