Ashton scores four as England spread wings

England 59 Italy 13: Satisfied Johnson calls his former Wigan wide boy a 'predator' after team performance of power and panache puts outclassed Italy to the sword

An England team selected to suit their burgeoning young talent, a devastatingly predatory try-scorer and the way the laws are presently refereed made meatballs of an Italian side whose resolve lasted about as long as it took Chris Ashton to score the first of his four tries, half his side's total in a one-sided jamboree.

This old ground has seen Italy crumble before; it has seen Nick Easter, the England No 8, score four tries in a World Cup warm-up against Wales in 2007. Not since Ronnie Poulton in the last match before the First World War had an Englishman performed the feat in the Championship. It feels as if all sorts of records are opening up to Ashton, the likeable Wiganer who has nine tries in nine Tests and, after his double in Cardiff, has scored six in this year's Six Nations alone.

Watching England has become fun again. It does not mean they will win the Championship or the Grand Slam; the French or the Irish among the opponents still to be met are capable of replicating and matching the red-rose style of a homogenous back row and quick ball for the back three. But Twickenham man and woman prefers it this way. The vivacity of Ben Youngs and Toby Flood at half-back, giving Ashton, Mark Cueto and Ben Foden the encouragement to try their luck in channels narrow and wide, is a far cry from the stultifying stuff of last season. Italy were handled capably in the scrum by Dan Cole and the debutant, Alex Corbisiero, and the Azzurri line-out lost a horrendous nine of their own throws.

Ashton broke his barely serious promise to Johnson not to ground the ball one-handed – after a mere two minutes and six seconds. A series of Italian phases had got them nowhere, and a snipe by Youngs followed by a 20-metre gallop from Flood showed the umbilical understanding of the Leicester club-mates and gave Ashton a run-in.

With James Haskell and Tom Wood divvying up the flanking duties and the tackling of the Italian midfield timidly ineffective, England kept their foot on the blue-jerseyed chests, when under different captaincy and the different attitude of the recent past they might have retreated into conservatism. With a 10-6 lead after two Mirco Bergamasco penalties and a penalty and conversion by Flood, they had three tries in 11 minutes, by Ashton, Cueto and Mike Tindall, the skipper. All came from the line-out.

Ashton pirouetted away from Bergamasco after Shontayne Hape brushed off Luciano Orquera; Cueto, to his immense and obvious relief after no tries in the previous 18 Tests, took Flood's inside pass after Cole and Dylan Hartley had done the spadework. And Easter, with a side-door pass, was Tindall's provider. There were errors here and there, and a referee who observed the letter of the law after the tackle pinged both teams for holding on or for not allowing the tackled player to release. The leeway to play was all good for England, and if Easter had a couple of dozy episodes it did not matter much.

Italy were a prop short due to Martin Castrogiovanni's yellow card for preventing a quick tap when they kicked a 52nd-minute penalty beyond England's 22, a line hitherto defended by the home side like North Korean border guards. But the line-out went astray off Sergio Parisse's fingertips and Haskell and the replacement hooker, Steve Thompson, burst upfield, where Flood's inside pass and Matt Banahan's link gave Ashton, off a ruck, his third try. Flood, who had not missed, converted for 38-6 before Danny Care and Jonny Wilkinson were given more than 20 minutes at Nos 9 and 10.

Almost immediately Wilkinson was lining up a conversion of Care's easily taken try: 45-6.

Fair play to Parisse, who fished a ball from an England ruck in the 67th minute but a duff kick later the position was gone. Finally, Italy got something right. Their replacement hooker, Fabio Ongaro, scored a try, riding shotgun to a line-out drive. The crowd applauded, then cheered Haskell's run for a seventh home try. Their true hero was Ashton, who finished off a break by Banahan in the 76th minute with another finger-pointing dive.

Johnson went part-way to joining in the fun. "We had no substitutes left but I was going to put his [Ashton's] number up anyway. I told him it was an interesting way to end your career." Then, more seriously: "He's a predator. He gets in the right places and scores tries." But wait. France, the Grand Slam champions, will be here a week on Saturday. "Do we have to be better?" said Johnson. "Yes, of course we do. A lot better."

England B Foden; C Ashton, M Tindall (capt), S Hape, M Cueto (M Banahan, 49); T Flood (J Wilkinson, 55), B Youngs (D Care, 55); A Corbisiero, D Hartley (S Thompson, 49), D Cole (D Wilson, 61), L Deacon (S Shaw, 45), T Palmer, T Wood (H Fourie, 61), N Easter, J Haskell.

Italy L McLean (K Burton, 78); A Masi (P Canavosio, 61-70), G Canale, A Sgarbi (G Garcia, 58), M Bergamasco; L Orquera, F Semenzato; S Perugini (Castrogiovanni, 63), L Ghiraldini (F Ongaro, 66), M Castrogiovanni (A Lo Cicero, 56), CA Del Fava (S Dellape, 45), Q Geldenhuys, V Bernabo (Lo Cicero, 49-55; R Barbieri, 55), S Parisse (capt; Canavosio, 78), A Zanni.

Referee C Joubert (South Africa).

England

Tries: Ashton 4, Cueto, Tindall, Care, Haskell

Cons: Flood 5, Wilkinson 3

Pen: Flood

Italy

Try: Ongaro

Con: Bergamasco

Pens: Bergamasco 2

England's man-for-man marking

Ben Foden 7/10

Had a remarkably quiet time of it, given the fun that was being had by the other members of the back three. Might have had an interception try later on, but he dropped it.



Mark Cueto 8/10

A good try after 18 Tests without one, arrowing in off his wing as part of a move that reminded this marker,who doesn't get out much, of Jon Sleightholme against Ireland in 1996. That move, off Paul Grayson, was called 'Pizza Hut'. This one was the pizza de resistance – sorry – in a pleasingly spicey performance.



Mike Tindall 7/10

Recipient of an early Easter egg, a sweet try hatched by the No8 ofthe same name. Had the odd comparatively unsubtle touch – one short pass to Cueto practically knocked the wing off his feet – but he led his team well.

Shontayne Hape 7/10

Pretty good, with breaks andoffloads against a demoralised and, consequently, disorganised defence. Penalised at a couple of rucks, as usual.



Chris Ashton 9.5/10

This cynical hack would like to find something to fault, but he didn't give away any penalties (see above) and his kicking was good. Maybe the swallow dive he'd promised not to do was a bit annoying... no, not really. Superb.



Toby Flood 8/10

Very good indeed. Has an old-fashioned angularity about him but his distribution flows smoothly and it must be nice to know that when he breaks, as he will, Ashton will be on his shoulder. Hasn't missed a kick yet.



Ben Youngs 8/10

It would be tempting to say the roar when he and Flood went off was for one of the men replacing them, Mr Wilkinson, if it didn't seem obvious that England have found a half-back pair to take them to the 2015 World Cup. Sharp, quick, bright. Excellent.



Alex Corbisiero 7/10

A strong debut, helped by the game being so open that there were only three scrums. At those he dealt well with Martin Castrogiovanni, an individual so medieval-looking he could have been written by Umberto Eco.



Dylan Hartley 7/10

England's line-out was close to flawless as Italy's, to use a technical term, 'went to bollocks'. As with the blame when things go wrong, the praise for all this is shared with his locks. Good hands, too.



Dan Cole 7/10

At the (we thought) all-important first scrum he seemed to be driving up against Salvatore Perugini, as opposed to being popped up by him. It worked then but he was pinged for it later. Readers who are forwards, or some of them, will know what all that means.



Tom Palmer 7/10

For the line-out, see the entry for Hartley. Prominent in the loose too, if not quite at the heights he hit in Cardiff.



Louis Deacon 7/10

Took kick-off after kick-off and line-out after line-out and looked pleasingly peeved to be replaced after 45 minutes.



Tom Wood 7/10

Theory: players who do not necessarily look like professional super athletes can often be better than those who do. This bloke is sort of long and ropey and looks very promising indeed.



James Haskell 7/10

Re: above. The über-muscular flanker had one of his best games, breaking and scoring a fine try, but there seems to be something a little, um, 'robotic' in his play. Which probably just means I'm a pointless romantic who yearns for cotton shirts and Mike Teague and actual fights. But there you are.



Nick Easter 7/10

Lovely offload for Tindall's try, out of the back of the hand. In the spirit of the last entry, there's something nice and old-fashioned about the big Quin who, you could almost say, combines Deano's pace with Zinzan's hands.

Replacements

Simon Shaw on for Deacon.

Mirco Bergamasco seems to have modelled his kicking style on the lock's galloping and gallumphing run.

Matt Banahan on for Cueto, set up two of Ashton's tries.

Steve Thompson on for Hartley to quadruple the average age of the front row.

Danny Care on for Youngs, eager to tap and go. Nice try.

Jonny Wilkinson on for Flood, made an excellent covering tackle on Andrea Masi at the end.

David Wilson on for Cole.

Hendre Fourie on for Wood.

Martin Pengelly

Travel
travel
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Our resilience to stress is to a large extent determined by our genes
science
Travel
travel
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Pornography is more accessible - and harder to avoid - than ever
news... but they still admit watching it
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
musicKate Bush asks fans not to take photos at London gigs
News
i100
Sport
Manchester United are believed to have made a £15m bid for Marcos Rojo
sportWinger Nani returns to Lisbon for a season-long loan as part of deal
News
news
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
O'Toole as Cornelius Gallus in ‘Katherine of Alexandria’
filmSadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Life and Style
fashion
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment