Ashton had no confirmation from head coach Eddie Jones that he would join up with the team last weekend in Teddington until he saw the notification on his phone and his bid to make it to Japan next year was up and running.
The 31-year-old has not played a Test for four years and had his last call-up, in 2016, ruined by bans for gouging and biting.
Disillusioned, he left Saracens for the sun and seafood of Toulon, thus ruling himself out of England contention until his pre-season move back to Sale.
A hat-trick against England for the Barbarians, in a 63-45 win, in May helped his cause after Jones had asked what his intentions were.
“At that point in time it was just pie in the sky,” said Ashton. “After the game, with it going so well, it brought a bit more attention to it, confirming what I already thought that I still wanted to be back in England and playing for England.
“Having the experience of playing abroad in France maybe brought the best out of me in terms of my rugby and I still felt I had a lot to offer and have a good go at playing for England again.
“I didn’t actually speak to Eddie last week, I got included in the August camp group chat – that was enough for me.”
Ashton was living the dream in Toulon, playing in 80 degrees sunshine at the brilliant Stade Mayol near the port and earning around £700,000 a year.
He broke the Top14 try scoring record with 24 touchdowns but his wife Melissa, and young daughter Ava Grace failed to settle, and he pined for a return to his native north west after stints at Northampton, Saracens and Toulon since 2007.
The move to Sale has seen his wages slashed but the wing says he is happier now to be back in Lancashire.
“Toulon was exactly what I thought it was going to be, a different culture, a different environment,” said Ashton.
“I think I am a better person and player for experiencing it. I loved the match days. Playing at home in Toulon is one of a kind and you don’t get it anywhere in Europe. Away days were special too. So it was a great experience for me and my family.
“We understood too how much we appreciate our families at home. We both have big families and going out there with a young baby and looking to have more babies – we found harder than we anticipated. Although it is not far away, it felt far away at times. We definitely feel more settled back in England.
“It means quite a lot for me to be at home and with my family. There’s no other place in England I’d have gone, I’ve been away for 11, 12 years so I felt it was a nice time to go back and play rugby up there.”
Toulon played Ashton at full-back regularly last season but Jones has said he sees him as a wing, although with Denny Solomona and Marland Yarde at Sale, he will probably play at 15 in the Premiership.
Ashton said: “I will more than likely fit in at full back at Sale. I enjoyed my time at full back at Toulon, it gave me more opportunities but I played full back like a winger. On many occasions I swapped positions and stood on the wing. I didn’t necessarily use it as a full full-back position.”