The departure of Chris Ashton from European Champions Saracens at the end of last season raised a few eyebrows in England and since his arrival at Toulon, rugby fans will be wondering just what the RFU let go.
Having seen his international career falter for a number of different reasons, the 30-year-old took the decision to quit England’s shores for warmer, and more lucrative, climes ahead of the new season.
Settling in amongst a host of world class talent at Toulon, it was wondered if Ashton could continue his try-scoring prowess with some of the biggest and best names in the business.
Nine matches into the season and the answer is a resounding yes. Following his hat-trick of touch downs at the weekend against Agen in the Top 14, the Englishman now has nine tries to his name.
With only Montpellier’s Nemani Nadolo having scored more (10), it is clear that life in France suits the dynamic back.
Now, with the November Test series upon us and England set to face Argentina, Australia and Samoa, head coach Eddie Jones could certainly do with the in-form and fit Ashton.
Currently weighing up the options available to him ahead of the Argentina clash at the weekend, Jones sees a number of key players ruled out through injury.
With Jonny May ruled out and Elliot Daly only just back from injury, Ashton would be the perfect back-line tonic England need ahead of their three Test matches.
Given the RFU’s refusal to select England players plying their trade outside of the England, however, the former Saracens and Northampton back has merely become the carrot that is dangled just out of reach.
This was a reality that was accepted by the Englishman when he left for Toulon. Having been in and out the England set up due to questions over his defensive capabilities, he decided to shelve his international ambitions this season when he signed a lucrative three year deal with the French giants.
At the time Saracens boss Mark McCall predicted that Ashton would regret his decision to leave the London club and current European top dogs.
Three months into his first term in the south of France, however, and it is fair to say that things could not be going any better for the explosive back.
Afforded ample opportunity to showcase his running and evasive abilities in the French league, the 39-capped Englishman is clearly well suited to the Top 14.
Looking at what will surely be an abrasive and challenging three weeks against some seriously solid southern hemisphere tourists, the try-scoring form Ashton is in at the moment would certainly come in handy.
But, just as Ireland fans are coming to realise in the modern era, leaving your home shores is to turn your back on your country. Simon Zebo, who has confirmed a move to France next term, has already been cut loose by Joe Schmidt and the IRFU ahead of Ireland’s own November Test series.
It may seem harsh that a player, in the their prime and enjoying fine form, should be brushed aside for a locally based option. Certainly in black and white terms it may seem so.
However, when you consider the volume of talent that is percolating through the various academy set ups, it only seems fair that these players be afforded the opportunity to represent their nation.
A line must be drawn somewhere and while at times it appears to be etched close to the bone, it is a line that, when drawn, must be the stick to which players are measured.
Sometimes, like now, players may fall on the wrong side of the line, despite the potential they offer. For Chris Ashton, he can dot down as many tries as he likes. On the international stage he is not an option.
More is the pity as at 30, he is in his prime and he is showing it.