Chris Ashton, the European Cup’s all-time leading try-scorer, is set to play in the Challenge Cup for the first time since 2009 after joining two-time winners Sale Sharks following his early release from triple European Cup champions RC Toulon.

The 31-year-old wing – who has scored 39 tries in 62 European Cup matches – has made all but six of his European appearances in the elite competition, with those six games coming in his first season of European rugby, for Northampton Saints, when he scored seven tries in the Challenge Cup.

Ashton joined Toulon last season from Saracens, where he won the Champions Cup in 2016 after a 21-9 victory over Racing 92 in Lyon and in 2017, when he scored the opening try to help them defeat ASM Clermont Auvergne 28-17 at BT Murrayfield.

The England international will be hoping to continue his excellent scoring run at Sale and is keen to bring success to the Cheshire club, who haven’t tasted European glory since their Challenge Cup victory in 2005.

Speaking via Sale Sharks’ official website, 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.

“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 to their winning ways of 2006.”

Sale director of rugby Steve Diamond added: “Chris is obviously a world-class signing. When we were looking around following the announcement of the return of Rohan Janse van Rensburg, we wanted to keep the make-up of our back three as exciting as we can.

“He’s a multi-talented, superb professional who has experienced the benefit of the successful culture at Saracens.”

The fixtures for the new season will be announced around two weeks after the announcement of the last fixture list from the European professional domestic leagues.