England underlined their 2011 Six Nations title credentials on Saturday as they demolished Italy 59-13 in an eight-try effort at Twickenham.
England underlined their 2011 Six Nations title credentials on Saturday as they demolished Italy 59-13 in an eight-try performance at Twickenham.
It was a showing that will add weight to talk of a possible Grand Slam as sublime running and support lines left the Azzurri with no answer.
Toby Flood and Chris Ashton were once again the top performers, with the right wing crossing four times to take his championship tally up to six.
Next up for England – after a week's break – will be a mouth-watering prospect of testing themselves against reigning champions France on home soil. And if they progress past title contenders Les Bleus, there is a prospect of a trip to Ireland on March 19 for possible glory – where they in fact sealed their last Grand Slam back in 2003.
One major reason for England's sudden boost in confidence has been the form of Ashton, of that there is little doubt. Northampton's prized possession regularly gets himself on the shoulder of the initial line-breaker, with his four tries showing just that as he fed off the many breaks made by Flood and others wearing white.
It took just three minutes for Ashton to get over the line following his fly-half finding a hole in his own half. It was a sucker punch for the side beaten narrowly by Ireland and one that they struggled to recover from. But in truth, England were a gear up than the Irish.
The visitors did manage to stay in touch via two Mirco Bergamasco penalties, but when the lively Ashton crossed again on 25 minutes, the writing was on the wall in London.
Italy were struggling for any foothold in the match as their line-out fell to pieces in the first half-hour. And that problem was the catalyst of a moment to savour for Mark Cueto, who followed Ashton's support-line lead by popping up for his first try in nineteen Tests. England were cruising at 24-6 up.
Captain Mike Tindall joined the party five minutes later when he was on hand to take a nice offload from number eight Nick Easter that extended the lead to 25 points at the break.
Italy needed a miracle to get back into the contest and were not helped by tighthead Martin Castrogiovanni being yellow carded for slapping the ball out of Ben Youngs' hands as the scrum-half tried to take a quick penalty. His absence led to Ashton going over and then the procession continued as Danny Care crossed.
Fabio Ongaro snatched a consolation try for the Italians from a rolling maul, but James Haskell grabbed a deserved score before Banahan sent Ashton in for his fourth late on.
Man-of-the-match: Toby Flood was once again the architect but for his four poacher-like tries, the award has to go to Saints star Chris Ashton.
Moment-of-the-match: Despite all the pre-game talk about not throwing in the Hollywood dive when scoring, it took just three minutes for the in-form Ashton to go against his word. Cue the laughter from the journalists. Wonder how Brian Smith and Martin Johnson reacted.
Tries: Ashton 4, Cueto, Tindall, Care, Haskell
Con: Flood 5, Wilkinson 3
Pen: Bergamasco 3
England: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Mike Tindall (capt), 12 Shontayne Hape, 11 Mark Cueto, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Nick Easter, 7 James Haskell, 6 Tom Wood, 5 Tom Palmer, 4 Louis Deacon, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Alex Corbisiero.
Replacements: 16 Steve Thompson, 17 David Wilson, 18 Simon Shaw, 19 Hendre Fourie, 20 Danny Care, 21 Jonny Wilkinson, 22 Matt Banahan.
Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Andrea Masi, 13 Gonzalo Canale, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Mirco Bergamasco, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Fabio Semenzato, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Alessandro Zanni, 6 Valerio Bernabo, 5 Quintin Geldenhuys, 4 Carlo Antonio Del Fava, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Salvatore Perugini.
Replacements: 16 Fabio Ongaro, 17 Andrea Lo Cicero, 18 Santiago Dellape, 19 Robert Barbieri, 20 Pablo Canavosio, 21 Kris Burton, 22 Gonzalo Garcia.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland), Peter Allan (Scotland)
Television match official: Tony Redmond (Ireland)
By Adam Kyriacou