Chris Ashton is to join Toulon next season in a move that all but ends his England career.
Saracens have confirmed that the Wiganer, who is currently serving a 13-week suspension for biting, will depart after a five-year spell at Allianz Park during which he has established himself as the double winners’ leading try scorer.
The 29-year-old is said to have grown disillusioned with life in the English Premiership after falling foul of the game’s disciplinary process and Saracens granted his request to be released early from his contract.
He served a 10-week suspension for raking his hand over the face of Ulster’s Luke Marshall earlier this year, preventing him from taking up his place in England’s RBS 6 Nations squad, before being given a second lengthy ban of the year last month.
In both instances, Ashton felt he was harshly treated.
“I’d like to put on record my thanks to Mark McCall, our chairman Nigel Wray and the whole team at Saracens for the manner in which they have dealt with my request to join Toulon next season,” said Ashton, who left home-town club Wigan in 2007 to switch codes.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at Allianz Park and I have made so many special memories on and off the field.
“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 on Saturday, contributing to the side when I return to action later this year and hopefully making a few more memories together in a black and red shirt.”
Ashton had 18 months to run on his current contract, so is leaving a year ahead of schedule, and he has agreed to join Toulon until 2020 to follow a path into the Top 14 taken by his former Saracens team-mate and wing David Strettle.
He returns from his latest disciplinary lapse on December 19 and knows that, had he avoided the ban, he would have been in contention for England’s autumn campaign following injuries to rivals Anthony Watson and Jack Nowell.