Ashton carried his record-breaking form for Toulon into his first appearance against the nation for whom he won 39 caps until departing for France last year, resigned to Eddie Jones’ indifference.
The 31-year-old hopes to revive his England career in the future and this performance, albeit in a match where defending was low down both teams’ agendas, issued a reminder of his artistry as a finisher.
England were beaten 9-6 on the try count despite fielding seven regular Test team starters, all of whom were involved in the NatWest Six Nations, and having been in camp for two weeks ahead of next month’s tour to South Africa. The decision to pick Mike Brown on the left wing was puzzling, Jones saying it was to see if the full-back can cover multiple positions at the World Cup and, by the third minute, he had his answer.
Josua Tuisova showed Brown a clean pair of heels to tee up Ashton for an extravagant finish and, soon after, the wing was over for his second after gathering Russell’s chip. It would have been a hat-trick inside the opening ten minutes had he not been caught by George Ford after being given a clear run to the line by Tuisova, but England were in pieces and Victor Vito capitalised by spinning over from close range.
Elliot Daly stemmed the flow after an overlap was exploited and the frantic pace continued when hooker Jack Singleton charged through a hole before feeding Piers Francis the scoring pass.
Ashton’s hat-trick arrived in the 25th minute, slick passing and movement providing the chance, before a run by Daly ended when Zach Mercer crossed.
The score was levelled at the half-hour mark when Ford showed patience during a crab-like run and released Francis to score, but then Ashton turned provider to send Russell over.
A weak tackle by Chris Robshaw waved Semi Radradra over for the Barbarians’ sixth try, but a penalty by Ford and a Joe Launchbury try reduced the gap between the rivals to four points.
Sitaleki Timani finished a daredevil team move before Laidlaw popped up on the right wing to put the result beyond doubt.