England winger Chris Ashton could miss the whole of the Six Nations Championship after being cited for a tackle on Ulster's Luke Marshall during Saracens' 33-17 win in the European Champions Cup Pool match at Allianz Park. The 28-year-old is alleged "to have made contact with the eye(s) and/or eye area" and could be handed a minimum 12-week ban, which would rule him out.
Though the entry point for a suspension would see him unavailable again until April, a previously good disciplinary record coupled with a guilty plea could help see that punishment cut by half. A six-week ban would see Ashton free to play Wales and France in England's final two matches. The championship starts on 6 February with England away to Scotland in Edinburgh.
Ashton has not played for England since June 2014 but last week was included in Eddie Jones' 33-man elite player squad for the Six Nations, the first one named by the Australian since replacing Stuart Lancaster as head coach. The ex-Northampton man was overlooked for the World Cup but has staged a fine return to form this season.
"EPCR has received a citing complaint against the Saracens wing, Chris Ashton (No 14), following the European Rugby Champions Cup Round 5 match against Ulster Rugby on Saturday, 16 January 2016," a statement on the European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) website read. "Ashton is alleged to have made contact with the eye(s) and/or eye area of the Ulster centre, Luke Marshall (No 13), in the 16th minute of the match in contravention of Law 10.4 (m). The complaint was by the match Citing Commissioner, Yves Thieffine."
Jones must confirm the first group of players released back to their clubs on 26 January but, as one of only four out-and-out wingers selected in the squad, Ashton was expected to be retain until at least the matchday squad is confirmed for the trip to Scotland. The England coach is a known admirer of Ashton and has said of the winger: "He's mad as a cut snake. He plays with a lot of energy, he's emotional, he scores tries, he's a real winner to me."