Ashton inspires Azzurri rout
Graham Jenkins at Twickenham
February 12, 2011
Chris Ashton celebrates his second try
© PA Photos
Four tries from winger Chris Ashton powered England to an emphatic 59-13 victory over Italy in a one-sided Six Nations encounter at Twickenham on Saturday.
The Northampton flyer was the star of the show as England outclassed their rivals to make it two wins from two following their opening victory over Wales last weekend. Winger Mark Cueto, captain Mike Tindall, flanker James Haskell and replacement scrum-half Danny Care also crossed for tries but it was the dynamic partnership of fly-half Toby Flood and scrum-half Ben Youngs that set the tone for the impressive triumph.
Replacement hooker Fabio Ongaro grabbed a late try for the visitors but it was no more than a consolation as the Azzurri failed to conjure the kind of performance that had taken them to the brink of a historic victory over Ireland last weekend.
Italy enjoyed plenty of early possession to encourage their large travelling support and an early cross kick from fly-half Luciano Orquera illustrated their confidence. They were soon put in their place by the hosts. Youngs drew the defence on halfway before Flood coasted through a gap, feeding Ashton for the wing to speed away to score under posts with what is fast becoming a trademark elaborate dive. Flood added the extras but a penalty against England lock Louis Deacon at the restart allowed Mirco Bergamasco to register an immediate reply from the kicking tee.
England's indiscipline then handed Italy an excellent attacking platform but their lineout failed to capitalise. Within moments Youngs and Flood had combined superbly to put Tindall away only for the skipper to run out of time and space. Cueto was the next to create havoc in a move that ended with hooker Dylan Hartley spilling the ball in the shadow of the posts and the hosts had to settle for a Flood penalty.
England's eagerness to atone for gifting possession to Italy had them in trouble with referee Craig Joubert and Bergamasco kept his side in touch with his second successful effort. And Italy's industry with ball in hand continued to cause England problems although the home side's defence looked rock solid.
In contrast the Italian defence creaked under the pressure of a relentless England with Hartley and fullback Ben Foden proving elusive. A misfiring lineout did not help matters, with the hosts in this kind of mood, but England's execution and some gutsy defence proved stumbling blocks.
England blindside Tom Wood was the next to feel the heat of the referees' whistle after a typically strong run from Italy skipper Sergio Parisse and that led to a word in Tindall's ear. He would have been more concerned had Bergamasco landed the kick.
England were soon on the front foot again with Flood and Ashton at the heart of proceedings and even tight-head Dan Cole got in on the act only to be hauled down just short. A loose pass from No.8 Nick Easter was then snaffled by Bergamasco, who stormed downfield only to be flattened by England centre Shontayne Hape on half-way.
Back came England with a decision to keep it tight among the forwards reaping rich reward. A powerful drive took the game deep into the Italian 22 before the ball was worked to Hape, who showed good strength to breach the defensive line before offloading to Ashton for a simple score, again converted by Flood.
Some desperate scrambling defence stopped Cueto heaping woe on Italy on the half hour mark after a neat chip and chase but the relief was only temporary. A well-worked move from the lineout resulted in Flood putting the wing in for a long-awaited try - ending a 18 Test run without crossing the whitewash. Cueto was engulfed by his team-mates before Flood dusted himself off, having been the victim of a crunching tackle, to slot the conversion.
Frustration began to surface among the toothless Italians and it was punished by the hosts. The England lineout once again laid the foundation before Easter powered over the gainline and he had the composure to pop the ball to Tindall for his side's fourth try. There was no let up from England as half time approached with Hape and Tindall ghosting through only for the final pass to go astray in another let off for the Italians.
Italy's hopes of an unlikely turnaround in fortunes were dealt a blow early in the second half when tight-head Martin Castrogiovanni was sent to the sin-bin for deliberately knocking the ball down. But to their credit they refused to buckle against an England side who were often lacking a clinical edge.
Italy's renewed resolve was eventually broken by Ashton, who claimed his hat-trick thanks largely to the efforts of Matt Banahan, who tore into the visitors' 22 with a powerful run. Flood's conversion would be his last contribution to the game and the crowd rose to its feet to hail the England No.10 and his half-back partner Youngs as they made way.
Replacement Care picked up where Youngs left off and raised the tempo immediately. A couple of breaks were the warning signs for the Italians but they failed heed them as Care skipped through for a try. Jonny Wilkinson nailed the conversion but the Italians dug in and were rewarded with their score. A catch and drive took them deep into the England 22 and replacement hooker Ongaro emerged with the ball as his side powered over the line.
Bergamasco slotted the conversion with 10 minutes remaining but the score woke England from their slumber with Haskell picking up the try his excellent all-round performance deserved. He strolled through a tiring Italian defence to take England up to the half century and Wilkinson took them through it with the conversion.
England's sense of adventure showed no signs of diminishing with Wilkinson shifting the ball inside his own 22 and it found its way to Banahan. The Bath wing's injection of pace carried him away from weary defence and allowed him to whip the ball inside to Ashton, who gleefully raced away to notch his fourth try, again converted by Wilkinson to complete the rout.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum.
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