SALE: Chris Ashton signed for Sale on Tuesday in a hammerblow for Toulon, where the free-running fullback enjoyed an outstanding season last year.
Toulon released Ashton from the final two years of his contract at his own request, citing family reasons.
The decision freed the former Northampton and Saracens back Ashton to return to the Premiership, and therefore potentially open up a route back to England selection.
Toulon said Ashton was “no longer in a psychological condition to remain in France, and therefore with Toulon, because of important family problems”.
Ashton, 31, joined Toulon last year and enjoyed an outstanding first season in the Top 14, setting a new try-scoring record of 24 in 23 games.
The move, however, precluded him from England selection, and there had been speculation in recent weeks that the prospect of an international recall might tempt him to return to the Premiership.
Ashton, who has 39 caps, had previously been out of favour with England coach Eddie Jones.
The Toulon statement added: “Toulon wishes Chris Ashton good luck in pursuing his sporting career.”
Sale released a statement soon after news of Ashton’s release confirming they had completed a deal with the player.
The move takes Ashton back to his native northwest, where he began his professional sporting career in rugby league with Wigan.
Ashton said: “This really feels like going home. I’ve always thought, in the back of my mind, that I’d return to the north to play rugby, and I’m delighted to be joining Sale Sharks.”
Ashton made no mention of any international ambitions in the statement, focusing on his commitment to the Sharks.
He said: “In Toulon, I’ve added to the experience I gained at Saracens. There are many players at Sale Sharks with whom I’m looking forward to playing.”
“I’m not coming to rest on my laurels. I feel I’ve got a lot of rugby left in me and would like to make an impact and help to take the club back to their winning ways of 2006.”