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Italy bow to ruthless Ashton

How excited should England be getting about this? Let's not be killjoys. This was very good. And if you were Chris Ashton, it was more than that.

The man scored four tries, which, when added to his two last week, means he has already equalled the record for the most tries in a Six Nations -- and there are another three games to go.

The first and the fourth were characterised by more of the outrageous swallow dives with ball in one hand with which he attracted such attention last week, when scoring against Wales. He was ticked off by the management, apparently, and mercilessly ribbed by his team-mates. He can expect more of the same. Mind you, one day he will drop it; then there will not be so many smiles.

But that is for another time. Ashton was really just the sharp tip of an increasingly impressive England side who are a credit to their manager, Martin Johnson. The England manager had been thrown in at the deep end from the start and seemed to be struggling for a while.

Now he is finding himself again, as are his side. They were a concert of multiple running lines, deft passes, physicality and, in light of the ambition, pretty good accuracy. England are a team of many parts just now, all of them in harmony. God knows, they have not been that for most of the past eight years, so well might the English raise a cheer.

But this was Italy. A lot is made of how far they have progressed, but they are in a lull at the moment. Nine of their starting line-up here were taken from Treviso and Aironi, their regional representatives in the Magners League and Heineken Cup, but both those sides have gone down by more than 50 in the latter competition this season. That is not a sound basis for an international side. They could have beaten Ireland last weekend, it is true, but as badly as Ireland played they repeatedly had Italian necks on the block; they just kept dropping the axe.

Here the executioners were merciless. One thing Italy will do is tackle, if not quite all day then at least for as long as they are able. Here their scramble defence was heroic indeed, preventing what could have been a really hideous scoreline. But their first-up defence, the bit that is meant to be organised, broke down horribly, as did their normally reliable set piece.

Enough, though, of the limitations of the vanquished. There were eight tries that needed scoring here, and, my, they were scored. Ashton took the limelight with his brace of braces, each of them showing off his almost sinister ability to know where the final pass is going to be made and how to get there. Mark Cueto, so excellent in a more understated fashion for England of late, finally joined him on the scoresheet with a more modest single try. No swallow dive for him -- indeed, so keen was he to make sure of the score, he stayed lying on the ball for a good 10 seconds as he was mobbed by his mates. This was his first try in 19 Tests.

The contrasting styles of England's wingers, though, only serve to reaffirm the blend of qualities this team are developing. There had been concerns over how a young England pack would cope against the formidable Italian eight, but the concerns proved unfounded.

Alex Corbisiero was brought in at loose-head for the injured Andrew Sheridan only on Friday, and the 22-year-old handled Martin Castrogiovanni at scrum time, and he was as busy as anyone charging round in the loose. Likewise, his 23-year-old partner at tight-head, Dan Cole. Dylan Hartley was accurate, hard and skilful; the locks were models of industry and airborne athleticism; Nick Easter a totem of a reference point; and the flankers here, there and everywhere. Have we mentioned everyone yet?

No. At half-back we had Toby Flood and Ben Youngs. Long may their first flush of youth continue. They are really flourishing now. Things, surely, will not always run so smoothly, but for now they seem wired up to the heart of any game they play in, knowing exactly how best to manipulate things. They knifed through Italy again and again in the first half, and when they were not doing so they were sending Cueto, Ashton et al off into the heart of Italy.

Mike Tindall scored the fourth try for a half-time score of 31-6, although his came courtesy of a powerful drive and beautifully soft off-load from Easter. By the hour mark it was 45-6, with two more tries.

The first, Ashton's hat-trick score, was the conclusion of an extravagant break-out from yet another stolen Italian line-out (England plundered eight of them in all), this one deep in the England 22. Danny Care sniped over for the sixth, before Italy finally secured a line-out and drove it for their only try, with 10 minutes of the game to go.

James Haskell rounded off a fine display of pace and power with England's seventh, before the stage was left for the arch performer Ashton and his theatrical fourth of the afternoon.


Scorers -- England: Ashton 4 tries, Cueto, Tindall, Care, Haskell try each; Flood pen, 5 cons; Wilkinson 3 cons.

Italy: Ongaro try; Mi Bergamasco 2 pens, con)

England: B Foden; C Ashton, M Tindall (capt), S Hape, M Cueto (Banahan 48), T Flood (J Wilkinson 55), B Youngs (D Care 56); N Easter, J Haskell, T Wood, T Palmer, L Deacon (S Shaw 56), D Cole, D Hartley (S Thompson 48), A Corbisiero.

Italy: L McLean; A Masi, G Canale, A Sgarbi, M Bergamasco, L Orquera, F Semenzato; S Parisse (c), A Zanni, V Bernabo (A Lo Cicero 49), Q Geldenhuys, C Antonio Del Fava (S Dellape 46) M Castrogiovanni, L Ghiraldini, S Perugini.

Referee: C Joubert (South Africa).

Sunday Indo Sport