Ashton’s fab four helps England rout Italy
Winger Chris Ashton scored four tries as England overwhelmed Italy 59-13 at Twickenham in London on Saturday to maintain their unbeaten start to the Six Nations championship.
England, who opened their campaign with victory in Cardiff last week, ran in eight tries and were always in control against an Italian side who had come close to scoring an upset over Ireland in their first match.
England’s other tries came from wing Mark Cueto, captain Mike Tindall, flanker James Haskell and substitute Danny Care.
Fly-half Toby Flood contributed 13 points from the boot with replacement Jonny Wilkinson adding the rest.
But it was rugby league convert Ashton who stole the show, taking his tally to nine tries in nine matches and becoming the first English player to score four tries in one match in the Six Nations.
Ashton risked the wrath of England manager Martin Johnson however after rounding off his first and fourth tries with his trademark swallow dive - something the team management has warned him against doing.
Johnson however was in no mood to rebuke Ashton as he paid tribute to the wing’s performance.
“Chris took his tries well. He’s a predator - he gets in the right place and scores tries,” said Johnson, who was nonplussed by Ashton’s apparent defiance of his orders.
“The boys gave him a whole heap of grief when we walked into the changing room. It’s OK, it’s a bit of fun.
“We won’t get too many chances to score the next time we play here (against France on 26 February) but we did what we needed to do and that was play well and execute our plans.
Ashton meanwhile was unrepentant.
“I thought it was the right time to do it - I knew he (Johnson) would be a bit annoyed so I thought I would do it,” he said.
Italy coach Nick Mallett blamed Italian errors for the lopsided scoreline.
“It was a disappointing day for us,” Mallett said.
“Our defensive tackles weren’t good enough. England played well, but a lot of that was off Italian mistakes. I don’t think there’s a 40-point difference between England and Ireland. They played well but we played badly.”
Ashton’s opening try was converted by Flood but Italy hit back immediately when Mirco Bergamasco slotted a penalty after England infringed at the restart.
A penalty from Flood restored England’s seven-point lead but again Italy responded with a penalty from Bergamasco.
England, fielding the youngest starting front row in their history following the late call-up of loosehead Alex Corbisiero for Andrew Sheridan, looked more than comfortable in the setpiece.
But their attempts to impose themselves were undermined early on by basic errors and they had to wait until the 25-minute mark before they reasserted their dominance.
A superb forward drive saw scrum-half Ben Youngs spin a flat pass to Shontayne Hape, and the powerful New Zealand-born centre burst through flimsy Italian tackling before feeding Ashton, who wriggled over for his second.
Flood added the conversion to make it 17-6 and soon afterwards England were threatening the Italian line again.
A clever midfield move pulled the Italian defence apart, Youngs feeding Flood, who popped inside to Cueto for a converted score which made it 24-6.
A desperate opening period for Italy got worse just before half-time when England scored their fourth try.
From a quick line-out ball on the 22, Youngs found number eight Nick Easter, who punched a hole in the Italian midfield and fed Tindall, who barrelled over the line for another converted score to make it 31-6 at the break.
The second half saw England turn the screw, Italy quickly in trouble when prop Martin Castrogiovanni was sinbinned for delaying a quick England penalty.
Ashton completed his hat-trick on 54 minutes, scrambling over from close range after a strong run from replacement Matt Banahan.
Perhaps with one eye on their clash with France later this month, Johnson then withdrew halfbacks Youngs and Flood for Care and Wilkinson.
Care quickly made his mark, waltzing through from close range before Wilkinson added the conversion.
Italy drove over for a late consolation score from Fabio Ongaro before Haskell’s effort and Ashton’s long range fourth - completed with yet another swallow dive - crowned England’s win.
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