Healey sends England into overdrive

Hat-trick of tries in eight minutes breaks Italian resistance as Woodward's men march on towards the Slam
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Italy began with the power of a Ferrari, ended the race by looking like a Fiat Uno and in between were predictably lapped by the classic English marque and, in particular, an Austin Healey in overdrive. With the right wing in pole, and almost every other, position, England safely negotiatedthe penultimate leg of an inaugural Six Nations Grand Slam yesterday.

Only Scotland at Murrayfield in a fortnight's time stand between Matt Dawson's supercharged team and a clean sweep. The Scots, of course, denied England the slam in Edinburgh 10 years ago but Dawson is not Will Carling and Scotland are not the team of 1990. The champagne is nicely chilled.

England scored eight tries to two, Healey achieving a blistering hat-trick in eight minutes to open the second half, and the floodgates, following a tumultuous start during which the referee Alan Lewis struggled to keep control.

On a warm, sunny afternoon, England were grateful to establish a 23-7 lead by half-time. After weathering an uncomfortable, frequently torrid phase, they were also indebted to the referee. The Irishman not only issued a stream of penalties against Italy, but produced a yellow card three times in 15 minutes midway through the first half and awarded a controversial penalty try to England.

As Scotland discovered to their cost, Italy are a different proposition when in Rome and they were aggressive and committed from the start.

England, however, expected nothing less and with Dawson and Lawrence Dallaglio at the heart of nearly everything and with Healey and Ben Cohen supplying the cutting edge, they dismantled the Italian defence, just as they had done in the World Cup at Twickenham last autumn.

This was not as gruesome as the goings on witnessed when the Colosseum was playing to packed houses on a Saturday night, but at times in the first half it came close.

The tone was set in the first minute when Alessandro Troncon upended Dawson. Jonny Wilkinson banged over a couple of penalties but immediately Italy went ahead when their forwards engaged in a series of ferocious drives which culminated in a try for Luca Martin. It also coincided with a mass punch-up.

First into the sin bin was Carlo Checchinato, and he was soon followed by his opposite number Garath Archer. When Dawson, as is his wont, took a quick tap penalty, Valter Cristofoletto obstructed the England captain and he too spent 10 minutes on the touchline.

This time England made their numerical superiority tell. Healey, receiving a pass just short of the Italian line, lost possession as he was tackled around the neck but the result was a penalty try which put England 13-7 ahead. Neil Back increased it with a cheeky drop goal and England began to breathe more easily when Dawson, from another tap penalty, burst clean through. While Italy had missed two easy penalty attempts, England scored 17 points, a solid platform from which to drive home their advantage in pace, power and teamwork.

This they duly did when Healey began the second half, rounding off a terrific movement in which Dallaglio and Matt Perry both featured. Two minutes later, Healey, with a kick and chase, was in again and he completed the fastest hat-trick, in every sense, in the European championship, capitalising on a well-placed kick from Wilkinson. Suddenly England were 40-7 in front and cruising.

England's astute kicking paid further dividends when, this time from a beautifully weighted kick from Healey, Cohen crossed for another well-taken try.

By now Italy were in the slipstream, but it did not prevent them from playing with a degree of pride and no little courage. Neither France nor Wales crossed the England line but the Italians managed a second try when the right wing Cristian Stoica crashed over in the corner. His celebration, however, was short-lived as he became the third Italian to be sin-binned.

It was a temporary interruption to England's impressive progress and Cohen got his second try and his country's seventh after taking a scoring pass from, you've guessed it, Healey.

There was still time for the irrepressible Dawson to get his second try before the captain was replaced near the end as England enjoyed the luxury of dishing out caps to all seven replacements.

With questionable timing, Clive Woodward, the England coach, had briefed the British lobby, announcing on the eve of the match that his reappointment was not a foregone conclusion. "I won't be signing another contract unless there is a new deal," Woodward, whose contract expires in August, said. He did not elaborate, although he was clearly annoyed that John Mitchell, his assistant, had not been offered a contract early enough to prevent his return to New Zealand next month. "No one can take anything for granted," Woodward added. Except, perhaps, a Grand Slam.

Woodward described his job as "80 per cent fantastic, 20 per cent awful", which is considerably higher than the ratio of most people, including Brad Johnstone, Italy's New Zealand coach.

"We are showing all the signs of a side unused to playing at maximum level on a regular basis," Johnstone said. In other words, Italy are a one-trick pony. What Italy need is a family of Dallaglios.

England, playing their first full international in Italy, were denied the Grand Slam last season by an injury-time try by Scott Gibbs for Wales. It is inconceivable that they can fail to secure the prize this time. Ireland were out-played, France out-thought and out-fought, Wales out-classed, and, by the end of this frantic encounter, Italy endured all those.

The Romans never gave the thumbs down but in the final analysis Italy were fed to the lions none the less. To borrow from Woodward, England's performance was, perhaps, 85 per cent fantastic, 15 per cent awful.

Italy: C Pilat (Treviso); C Stoica (Narbonne), N Zisti (Roma), L Martin (Begles-Bordeaux), D Dallan (Treviso); D Dominguez (Stade Français), A Troncon (Montferrand, capt); A Lo Cicero (Roma), A Moscardi (Treviso), T Paoletti (Piacenza), C Checchinato (Treviso), A Gritti (Treviso), W Cristofoletto (Stade Montois), A De Rossi (Livorno), M Bergamasco (Padova). Replacements: M Cuttitta (Calvisano) for Paoletti 57; G Preo (Treviso) for Dallan 58; A Persico (Viadana) for Bergamasco 76.

England: M Perry (Bath); A Healey (Leicester), M Tindall (Bath), M Catt (Bath), B Cohen (Northampton); J Wilkinson (Newcastle), M Dawson (Northampton, capt); J Leonard (Harlequins), P Greening (Wasps), D Garforth (Leicester), G Archer (Bristol), S Shaw (Wasps), R Hill (Saracens), N Back (Leicester), L Dallaglio (Wasps).Replacements:I Balshaw (Bath) for Tindall 62; J Worsley (Wasps) for Hill 70; T Woodman (Gloucester) for Leonard 70; A King (Wasps) for Wilkinson 73; A Gomarsall (Bedford) for Dawson 77; M Corry (Leicester) for Archer 78; N McCarthy (Gloucester) for Greening 80.

Referee: A Lewis (Ireland)