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Chris Ashton to leave Saracens and join Toulon at end of season

Chris Ashton
Chris Ashton will leave Saracens after five seasons to play in the Top 14 in France. Photograph: Paul Harding/PA

Chris Ashton has said it was “easily the hardest decision” he has made after choosing to leave Saracens at the end of this season to join Toulon .

With Eddie Jones set to name his England squad for the autumn internationals on Wednesday, the former England winger has decided to ply his trade in France next season, ruling himself out of future involvement in the national side.

“I will leave one of the greatest rugby clubs in the world at the end of this season,” Ashton wrote on Twitter. “This was easily the hardest decision I have had to make (and I’ve made a few). I feel the experience and opportunity to play in France was too good to turn down.”

Ashton has spent five seasons at Saracens, becoming the club’s leading try scorer and winning two Premiership titles and a European Champions Cup.

He added: “I’d like to put on record my thanks to Mark McCall [the director of rugby], Nigel Wray and the whole team at Saracens for the manner in which they have dealt with my request to join Toulon next season. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at Allianz Park and I have made so many special memories on and off the field.

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“I have developed as a player during my time with Sarries but more importantly I have developed as a person, and I will always be indebted to the club for that.

“There is a tremendous culture at Saracens and the bond between everyone here is very tight. It will be a real wrench for me to leave all that behind at the end of the season but I’m looking forward to a new challenge at Toulon next year. My focus now is helping the squad prepare for Leicester Tigers on Saturday, contribute to the side when I return to action later this year and hopefully make a few more memories together in a black and red shirt.”

Mark McCall said: “We would like to thank Chris for his contribution to Saracens over the last five seasons and the role he played in helping us create some incredible memories during that period. Chris will still have an important role to play this season and we’ll look forward to seeing him back in action after his suspension.”

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England expects but at least Gareth Southgate doesn’t have big shoes to fill

Gareth Southgate is about to find out first hand the difficult nature of the top job in English football.

 

“Bring it on, lads,” Sam Allardyce exclaimed at a press conference three days after accepting the job of managing England. So they did. And 64 days later he was gone.

The “lads” had wiped him out, turning him into a candidate for a spectacular entry in the Guinness World Records. Allardyce became the recipient of the largest amount of money ever paid to a man for supervising a single game of football: about £550,000 in salary over the two months, plus a reported £1m in “compensation” for £6m he had been due to earn under the terms of the truncated two-year contract.

To the FA’s outlay could be added the £3m they were required to pay Sunderland for securing his services in the first place. That made it four and a half million quid for two halves of very unsatisfactory football barely redeemed by a lucky 95th-minute winner. In itself the match represented perhaps the most unimpressive debut by an England manager since the autumn of 1977 when Ron Greenwood, given temporary charge – despite a popular clamour for Brian Clough – after Don Revie’s sudden retreat to the United Arab Emirates, packed his team with seven Liverpool players and watched them fumble and fret to a goalless friendly draw with Switzerland at a half-full Wembley.

Allardyce’s appointment was always going to provide the answer to a question that had become tiresome. Finally we would know what happened if he got the job. Could the son of Dudley turn into the mythical Allardici of his own imagination, infusing England’s players not merely with bullish confidence but with sophisticated tactical awareness? Or would he prove true to the negative stereotype, the purveyor of bluster and big-boot football still trailing the noxious fumes of a BBC Panorama investigation?

Before his downfall he had showed all the signs of going the way of Steve McClaren. The brash facade quickly gave way to a series of mistakes, the first in cancelling a potentially useful friendly against Croatia followed by errors of selection and tactics and then to an absurd attempt to gloss over his captain’s incoherent performance by claiming that it is “not for me to say where to play Wayne Rooney”. Possibly the most bizarre comment ever made by a serving England manager, this should have put doubts into the minds of the FA even before the news of the Daily Telegraph’s fatal sting.

So now we know. Allardyce was brought down by his failure to recognise the different standards of behaviour demanded by the position he prized so greatly. Those standards were not, after all, so hard to recognise and observe: act with a little discretion and – just for two years – rise above the rest of the creatures grubbing around in football’s money pit. Not much to ask, for £3m a year.

In the case of Clough, we will never know how it might have turned out. A couple of months after that Switzerland stalemate 39 years ago, having guided England to victories over Luxembourg away and Italy at home in the meantime, Greenwood got the job full-time in preference to Old Big ‘Ead, whose brand of self-confidence had not impressed the FA’s committee men. Neither were they influenced by his success, in partnership with Peter Taylor, in getting Nottingham Forest promoted to the top flight and by their start – P18 W12 D3 L3 – to a season that would see them capturing the First Division title.

That was something Greenwood never achieved. But he was an enlightened thinker about the game under whose aegis at West Ham three of England’s heroes of 1966 had grown and prospered, and the FA had let it be known that they were looking for someone who would not just manage the senior international team but take control of the entire England coaching structure. Clough might not have been interested in that aspect of the mission statement. He would also have needed Taylor with him, and together they carried quite a lot of baggage that might have been prised open by the 1970s equivalents of the “lads” who did for Allardyce.

It is also questionable whether the environment of international football would have suited Clough who, even though his players often did not see him from Saturday night to Friday morning, appeared to thrive best once he had created a kind of family atmosphere. He was a strategist, and international football requires tacticians. Given only short periods of time with his squad, he might also have found it difficult to keep all the big egos happy.

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Tiger Woods to make return at Safeway Open next week

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods served as a vice-captain for the US team in the Ryder Cup. Photograph: Visions in Golf/Rex/Shutterstock

Tiger Woods has entered next week’s Safeway Open as he edges nearer to competing in his first PGA Tour event since August 2015.

The former world No1, who has been sidelined by serious back problems, said last month he planned to play four events before the end of the year, starting with the Tiger Woods Invitational on the Monterey Peninsula, California, on 10 October.

The 40-year-old will then head north to Napa for the Safeway Open from 13-16 October and, if all goes to plan, Woods will play on the European Tour in the Turkish Airlines Open in November and the Hero World Challenge, which is hosted by his own foundation, in the Bahamas.

Woods has had three back operations in the space of 19 months and has not won on the PGA Tour since the Bridgestone Invitational in 2013.

The 14-times major winner served as a vice-captain to Davis Love as the United States won the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine last week and will perform the same role for Steve Stricker at the 2017 Presidents Cup, if he fails to make the team.

His participation in the Safeway Open was announced in a statement from the PGA Tour, several hours ahead of the deadline for entries.