x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Ashton leads England rout of Italy in Six Nations rugby

The winger scores four tries in a 59-13 rout at Twickenham Stadium for second straight win to England.

Ashton scores the first of his four tries for England.
Ashton scores the first of his four tries for England.

LONDON // The prolific winger Chris Ashton scored four tries as rampant England routed Italy 59-13 at Twickenham to register a second straight win in the Six Nations and maintain its perfect record against the Azzurri.

The Northampton star took his test tally to nine tries in nine matches by going over twice in each half, adding to the brace he scored in the 26-19 victory over Wales in the competition's opening game.

Ashton even risked the wrath of England manager Martin Johnson by celebrating two of his tries with his renowned "swan dive," something he received an ear-bashing for for doing against the Welsh.

"I thought it was the right time to do it; I thought 'Why not?,"' said Ashton, who became the first player to score four tries in the Six Nations.

The hosts crossed eight times in all - with Mark Cueto, Mike Tindall, Danny Care and James Haskell also dotting down - and impressive flyhalf Toby Flood landed six kicks from six to keep up his flawless record in this year's Six Nations.

But Ashton was undoubtedly the star of the show, demonstrating an instinct he learned from his formative years in rugby league to pop up on the shoulder of his teammates time and again.

"The guys gave him the chances but he's definitely a finisher," Johnson said.

Beleaguered Italy's only try came through Fabio Ongaro in the 70th minute, while winger Mirco Bergamasco converted to add to two first-half penalties for a personal haul of eight points.

But the visitors' defense was porous all match and any hopes they had of keeping England on a leash, like they did Ireland in a narrow 13-11 defeat in Rome last week, were dashed very quickly.

Ashton acknowledged this week that Johnson was unhappy with his over-the-top try celebration in Cardiff but it didn't stop him doing exactly the same thing eight days on after just three minutes against Italy. He did the dive again in the 76th to complete the rout.

"I'll have him in the office for that on Tuesday morning," Johnson joked. "No, it's OK, it's a bit of fun."

Ashton's first try came when sprightly scrumhalf Ben Youngs set free Flood, whose inside pass sent the winger through. The capacity crowd waited to see what he would do as he went over the line and he didn't disappoint, diving high into the air with the ball tucked in his left hand before safely grounding.

Bergamasco and Flood exchanged quick penalties before Italy's center-turned-winger knocked over another three-pointer to make it 10-6 in the 14th.

England was in control, though, and made that dominance count on the scoreboard in the 25th when Shontayne Hape barged through some powder-puff midfield tackling before offloading to Ashton, who span Bergamasco to go over from five meters.

The floodgates then opened and Cueto, without a try in his previous 18 tests, made sure he didn't miss out.

The Youngs-Flood combination sent in the popular Sale wing, who scorched over from 10 meters and was mobbed by his ecstatic teammates.

There was still time for Tindall, England's captain for the second straight game with Lewis Moody still out injured, to take Easter's pass and rumble over for a try Flood converted for a halftime score of 31-6.

A yellow card for Martin Castrogiovanni at the start of the second half hardly helped Italy's cause and in the prop's absence, Ashton made hay by completing his hat trick. Replacement center Matt Banahan barged through more holes in the Azzurri midfield and although he was stopped three meters short, Ashton was on his shoulder to pile over.

A raft of changes by both sides took some of the sting out of the game but England still looked dangerous and Care, the substitute scrumhalf, darted off the side of a ruck to cruise over from 20 meters in the 58th.

Ongaro's close-range try in the 70th was a consolation for Italy, but England had the last laugh.

Haskell crowned a solid allround display by grabbing the seventh try and the stage was set for Ashton to wrap up proceedings in the 76th, running onto Banahan's pass to sprint in from 40 meters - finishing with a "swan dive" that brought a wry smile from Johnson.

Replacement winger Jonny Wilkinson, a 55th-minute replacement for Flood, converted the final three tries for six points.

Wales shine at least with win over Scotland

Wales brought a wretched eight-match winless run to an end by beating Scotland 24-6 at Murrayfield with a try in each half from winger Shane Williams in the Six Nations.

James Hook, brought in by Wales to provide some creativity at flyhalf, set up Williams' seventh-minute try and kicked three penalties to push the visitors to a 16-3 halftime advantage.

Two penalties by Scotland No 10 Dan Parks reduced the deficit, but Williams grounded Jonathan Davies' kick through in the 70th to grab his 55th test try and kickstart Wales' campaign, following its 26-19 loss to England last week.

The win will take some of the heat off under-pressure Wales coach Warren Gatland, while Scotland suffered its second straight defeat in the competition after going down 34-21 in France. It was also the Scots' eighth defeat in nine matches against Wales and they will rue not taking full advantage when the Welsh went down to 13 men during the first half, following quickfire yellow cards to lock Bradley Davies and fullback Lee Byrne.