Chris Ashton recalled to England squad

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Chris Ashton scored a hat trick for the Baa Baas

Chris Ashton has edged towards reviving his England career after Eddie Jones was convinced of his determination by a “glint in his eye.”

Ashton has been included in a 44-man pre-season training squad that will gather in Teddington this weekend just weeks after ending his three-season contract at Toulon two years ahead of schedule in order to join Sale.

The former Saracens wing set a new try-scoring record for the Top 14 but his determination to add to his 39 caps, combined with family reasons, inspired his return to the Gallagher Premiership.

Jones spoke to Ashton before the 31-year-old plundered a hat-trick for the Barbarians against England in May and was quickly persuaded by his intent.

“We had a quick chat and he had a bit of a glint in his eye, which indicated something and that something was that he wanted to come back to England,” Jones said.

“Chris had the idea in his head. He wants to play for England and he sees this as his last opportunity so we’re very pleased that he’s made that decision. We’re looking forward to what he can bring to the table.”

Ashton appeared in Jones’ first squad in January 2016 but had to withdraw after being banned for gouging and in the summer that same year he turned down the chance to tour South Africa with the Saxons due to the birth of his first child.

Further opportunities were limited by another lengthy suspension, this time for biting, and he claimed his disillusionment with the disciplinary process drove him to signing for Toulon, thereby making him unavailable for England.

But a sensational debut season in the Top 14 has persuaded one of the sport’s deadliest finishers that he can still be a force at the highest level.

“Chris is an exceptional player, I think we have seen with his form at Saracens then at Toulon, he has played exceedingly well,” Jones said.

“He’s come back to England because he wants to play for England so he has got the right desire, the right attitude, so it will be good to work with him.”

Dylan Hartley features in the squad that will participate in a three-day training camp that begins on Saturday.

Hartley missed the summer tour to South Africa due to concussion and has not played since the final match of the Six Nations against Ireland at Twickenham, but has returned to full fitness.

“It’s good for Dylan. He got married over the summer and he’s just got back from his honeymoon,” Jones said.

“He’s done some quality pre-season work so it’s great to have him back in the mix. We’re pleased to have him there.”

The only players who were involved against the Springboks not to be present this weekend are flanker Brad Shields, wing Denny Solomona and number eight Billy Vunipola, who was forced home with a recurrence of a fractured arm.

Still missing due to injury, fitness or other are prop Dan Cole, centre Jonathan Joseph, centre Manu Tuilagi, full-back Anthony Watson and scrum-half Danny Care.

England training squad

Backs: C Ashton (Sale), M Brown (Harlequins), D Cipriani (Gloucester), J Cokanasiga (Bath), E Daly (Wasps), N Earle (Harlequins), O Farrell (Saracens), G Ford (Leicester), P Francis (Northampton), G Ibitoye (Harlequins), A Lozowski (Saracens), J Marchant (Harlequins), J May (Leicester), J Olowofela (Leicester), D Robson (Wasps), H Slade (Exeter), B Spencer (Saracens), B Te’o (Worcester), B Youngs (Leicester).

Forwards: L Cowan-Dickie (Exeter), T Curry (Sale), J George (Saracens), D Hartley (Northampton), J Haskell (Northampton), A Hepburn (Exeter), P Hill (Northampton), N Hughes (Wasps), N Isiekwe (Saracens), M Itoje (Saracens), J Kpoku (Saracens), J Launchbury (Wasps), C Lawes (Northampton), J Marler (Harlequins), M Rhodes (Saracens), C Robshaw (Harlequins), S Simmonds (Exeter), K Sinckler (Harlequins), J Singleton (Worcester), W Spencer (Leicester), E Stooke (Bath), S Underhill (Bath), M Vunipola (Saracens), H Williams (Exeter), M Wilson (Newcastle).

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Gregor Townsend's Scotland - the great entertainers of World Rugby

Alex Broun 1/08/2018
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Scottish captain John Barclay

When former Scotland and British and Irish Lions flyhalf Gregor Townsend took over the national team just 14 months ago – hopes were not high.

Feelings were up north that the Scots had over-achieved under Vern Cotter and that their “oh so close” quarter final against the Wallabies in 2015 was about the best it could be expected to get.

Well how wrong we all were – or how wrong Townsend has proved us.

Freeing the side from the rigid discipline of Cotter’s style the Scots showed they were nowhere near reaching their potential.

They beat their Rugby World Cup vanquishers Australia twice – once at home and once away, as well as notching up wins over Argentina, France and best of all England – 25-13 in the Six Nations in February : a win that could be heard all the way back at Twickenham.

But even more than the results was the thrilling style of rugby Scotland played to achieve it.

As Opta Jonny have revealed Scotland have averaged 3.9 tries per game under Townsend (55 tries, 14 games).

The only Tier 1 team to have a better average than that are the double reigning World Champions – the All Blacks with 5.1. And they are well – the All Blacks.

Speaking of the All Blacks, the Scots even gave them a run for their money going down narrowly 22-17 at Murrayfield in November 2017 with Mr X-Factor himself, Stuart Hogg, even going close to winning it late on.

The Scots have long been the poor cousins of the Home Nations – a quartet they make up with Ireland, England and Wales.

That trio have all enjoyed Six Nations success in the last six years but the last time Scotland raised the famous trophy was back in the last century, 1999 – when it was still known as the Five Nations, as Italy were yet to join.

Along with the lack of success has been a reputation of dour rugby, keeping it tight and simple, in the fear that if they tried to be expansive it would come back to bite them.

That was Cotter’s recipe for success – and certainly results did improve under his reign – as the Scots played with a lot of passion and a little skill to if not win, then at least keep it close.

But all that has changed under Townsend who has given his squad one magic quality – belief.

The Scots now play in an expansive style with a skill level that is at times breath taking, almost All Blacks like.

It was a style that Townsend developed at Glasgow Warriors from 2012 to 2017 and it brought some success as they were runners up in the 2013-14 PRO12 and champions the next year for the first time in their history.

Could Scotland be the Croatia of the World Cup?

Could Scotland be the Croatia of the next Rugby World Cup?

It was considered that Townsend would be brave but stupid to continue the same game plan at national level but the flyhalf decided to throw caution to the highland breeze.

If Scotland were to win – they would win his way – and in large parts he has been successful.

There have been setbacks – the shock loss to the USA in Houston in June and the 34-7 humbling by Wales in this year’s Six Nations – but overall the positives have outweighed the negatives, hence Townsend’s recently announced contract extension through to 2021.

The big tests now lie ahead for Townsend and his team – a Six Nations campaign early next year, then the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan where they face a tricky Pool A with Ireland, Japan, Russia and Samoa.

Win or come second in that group and they then face a quarter final most likely against the Springboks or All Blacks.

Scottish fans, who count JK Rowling among their number (check out her frenetic Tweets when Scotland next take the field), will already be dreaming of a famous victory in the last eight and a dream-like semi-final in Yokohama.

You can scoff but the bonny Scots could well prove to be the Croatia of Rugby World Cup 2019 and a first ever final appearance is certainly not beyond Townsend’s entertaining bunch.

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Eddie Jones plummets down list of Rugby's 50 most influential people

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Eddie Jones is losing some of his power.

Eddie Jones has gone from second to 19th in a list of Rugby’s most influential people.

England’s head coach has fallen down the standings published in the September issue of Rugby World magazine following a dismal first half of 2018 that included five successive Test defeats.

Jones has also been forced to issue two public apologies for disparaging comments made about Wales and Ireland, and Bath owner Bruce Craig, whom he labelled the “Donald Trump of Rugby”, while the training methods that have seen a number of players sustain serious injuries have been placed under the microscope.

In a further blow to the 58-year-old, his most vocal critic has risen above him to 12th after Craig was promoted on the basis of his role at the Recreation Ground, willingness to confront Jones and his involvement in discussions over the European club structure and global season.

World Rugby vice-chairman Agustin Pichot tops the list and is followed by new South Africa boss Rassie Erasmus – who masterminded a 2-1 series victory over England in June – with Montpellier owner Mohed Altrad in third.

The standings are produced every two years and are based on the views of players, coaches, administrators and media.

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