England 59-13 Italy, Six Nations, Twickenham, February 12
Johnson hails Ashton as unique talent
ESPNscrum Staff
February 14, 2011
England's Chris Ashton poses with his Man of the Match honour, England v Italy, Six Nations, Twickenham, London, England, February 12, 2011
Four-try hero Chris Ashton poses with his Man of the Match honour © Getty Images

England manager Martin Johnson has hailed winger Chris Ashton as a special talent following his four-try haul against Italy in their Six Nations clash at Twickenham on Saturday.

Ashton became the first England player to achieve the feat in the Championship since England's Ronald Poulton notched four tries against France in 1914 and he has now scored nine tries in his nine Test appearances.

Given Ashton was on the brink of quitting rugby union altogether just 18 months ago it has been a remarkable rise - quicker and more impressive than even Johnson could have hoped for. Ashton, who moved from Wigan Warriors to Northampton in 2007, has brought a new dimension to England's attacking game since making his debut against France last season.

And Johnson compared his impact over the last 12 months to England's only previous unqualified cross-code success story. "Chris is a bit different. When Jason Robinson came into the team he was different in how he played and Chris is different again," Johnson said. "We need finishers. They make the difference in games. Chris is enjoying what he does but underneath that he does work hard, he is conscientious and he wants to be a very good player.

"The world is very, very quick now. At the start of last season Chris wasn't sure of place in the Northampton team and he was playing for England by the end of it. When you think where he is now, we are very pleased with his progress. I don't think anyone could have definitely said he would be where he is now."

Thanks to a brace of tries in England opening Six Nations victory over Wales, Ashton has already equalled the try-scoring record for one Championship campaign held by England's Will Greenwood (2001) and Wales' Shane Williams (2008). And Rory Underwood last week predicted Ashton will break his record of 49 England tries but the 23-year-old Northampton wing refuses to even consider it.

"The day I start looking at records is the day I am sure I will stop scoring tries," Ashton said. "My aim when I got in the team was to play the best I could and hopefully the tries would come from that. Thankfully it is all going right for us."

The contrast between England's Twickenham performance and their one-dimensional turgid display against Italy in Rome 12 months ago could not have been more stark and Johnson credits the change in breakdown interpretations in favour of the attacking team as a major factor in the success of his multi-dimensional side.

"You can't under-estimate the way the breakdown has been refereed in the last 12 months," Johnson said. "It has given us more attacking opportunities. The players have the licence to go and play. It is a good environment. It has to be fun - and Chris is enjoying what he does - but you have to be good as well. Everything is a balance."

Johnson will adopt just that tone when the players gather back in camp this week. He will remind them of what happened last year, when England beat Wales and Italy but failed to win another game. But, equally, England head into the France game in two weeks' time on the back of their biggest Six Nations win in a decade.

"Every game is different and you have to manage it," Johnson said. "We need enjoy ourselves after a job well done and then get back to work next week. France are a different challenge in how they play. The guys are starting to understand the detail of what Test match rugby is about at times."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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