Rugby Union

Chris Ashton itching to get playing again after ban - Saracens boss Mark McCall

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Saracens boss Mark McCall is relishing the return to action of "X-factor" wing Chris Ashton in Friday's Aviva Premiership clash against Bath.

Ashton will make his comeback at the Recreation Ground after serving a 10-week ban, having been sidelined since Saracens' European Champions Cup pool victory over Ulster in January.

Ashton was suspended after being cited for making contact with Ulster player Luke Marshall's eye area during that game at Allianz Park. A subsequent appeal by Ashton against the ban was rejected.

The 29-year-old, who had appeared to be on course for an England return under new head coach Eddie Jones for this season's RBS 6 Nations Championship, saw those hopes of an international recall dashed.

A strong end to the season with Saracens, though, could see him firmly in the frame for England's June tour to Australia tat features Tests against the Wallabies in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.

Ashton has scored 19 tries in 39 England appearances, but he has not played Test rugby since June 2014.

"Chris' attitude has been really good," McCall said, ahead of the Bath encounter.

"He has worked hard on his game throughout the 10-week period, and I know he is itching to get out there playing once again.

"He was in great form before the suspension came along, and he is going to provide something different to our team with his X-factor.

"We are looking forward to seeing him back out on the pitch on Friday."

Ashton replaces a rested Chris Wyles for the Bath trip, with McCall again parading all five players - Owen Farrell, Mako Vunipola, Maro Itoje, George Kruis and Billy Vunipola - who started England's Grand Slam-clinching victory over France 12 days ago and then starred in last weekend's 36-18 demolition of Saracens' Premiership title rivals Exeter.

Bath might be eight places and 25 points below Saracens in the league, but McCall added: "Bath are in good form, having picked up some results as of late.

"We know that they possess some very good players who are capable of winning big games."

Bath also welcome back a long-term England international absentee under the Friday night floodlights, with lock Dave Attwood lining up for a first senior appearance since December after recovering from injury.

And Attwood believes a battle against current England starting locks Itoje and Kruis represents a perfect opportunity.

"George had a tremendous Six Nations," Attwood said. "There was a lot of talk about him being player of the tournament, and I thought that he deserved it.

"And then Maro has obviously come in and done superbly well. The competition for the second-row with England is unbelievable now - which isn't great for me!

"But that is something I have to deal with, and this is my first opportunity to get back to it with Bath, and to be playing these two guys is a great way to test myself out."

Like Saracens, Bath start with a number of England internationals, including Attwood, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph and George Ford as they target a third successive home win following recent victories over London Irish and Newcastle.

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