British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland should sit up and take note of Chris Ashton’s performance in Saracens’ 53-10 mauling of Bath on Sunday, according to his director of rugby Mark McCall.
Ashton scored two of Saracens’ eight tries that kept them in touch with Wasps and Exeter Chiefs in the battle to secure a Premiership home semi-final, with the wing beginning to count down his days at the club as he prepares to head to France next season to join Toulon.
That journey to the south of France could yet take a detour to New Zealand though, should Gatland decide that he wants Ashton’s clinical finishing in his squad. The call-up would be a surprise, given Ashton has not played for England since the 2014 tour of the same country, with head coach Eddie Jones actually in attendance at Allianz Park to see the wing send out a statement.
While he will no longer be available for selection with Jones, Gatland can still call on the former rugby league man, and McCall believes he should take a look at him before deciding his squad ahead of the 19 April announcement.
“Chris was really good, you could see what a clever rugby player he is,” McCall said. “He did a lot of things in the game that people don't give him credit for in terms of the attacking kicks used and where he pops up.
“Sean Maitland on our other wing was good and the two of them gave performances that Warren Gatland might be interested in.
“Chris showed enough out there to make people curious and to have a look and it was the same with Sean as well.”
Despite Saracens remaining reigning domestic and European champions, and being one of the regular challengers for silverware since the last Lions tour, Gatland is yet to contact McCall about the availability of his players. The likes of Billy Vunipola, Maro Itoje and Owen Farrell look assured of a place in his touring party, but he has not yet spoken with McCall about any of his players, let alone England exile Ashton.
“[I’ve] Not spoken to Warren,” he added. “Warren Gatland hasn’t asked about the availability of any of our players.”
One of the players he will take a keen interest in will be the injured lock, George Kruis, who was here at Allianz Park alongside his mum in a Mother’s Day treat. The England lock has not played since suffering a knee injury in England training ahead of the opening Six Nations match against France, and he is not due to return until next month – when Gatland will be announcing the squad.
“George will probably be available when they select the squad,” added McCall. “He has an outside chance of making the Northampton game [on 16 April] which would be three days before they announce the squad. That's a long shot and it's probably the week after.”