England 59-13 Italy, Six Nations, Twickenham, February 12
Ashton: I'll send Johnno flowers
February 13, 2011
Chris Ashton opts for the swallow dive as he scores against Italy © Getty Images
Chris Ashton admitted he may have to send Martin Johnson some flowers and a note of apology after finishing two of his record four tries against Italy with a flamboyant swallow dive.
The Northampton wing became the first England player since 1914 to score four times in a Championship match - and the first in Six Nations history - as the Azzurri were put the sword at Twickenham on Saturday. Ashton had promised there would be no repeat of the celebration that accompanied his first try against Wales last week after being given a dressing-down by the England management.
Attack coach Brian Smith had shown the squad a video of former London Irish No.8 Juan Leguizamon dropping the ball trying the same thing. But as he streaked clear under the posts, following a break from Toby Flood, Ashton could not help himself.
"There was time to think. I was doing eeny meeny miney mo and when I got there I think I was on the mo and thought I will just have to do it," Ashton said. "If someone can find out what flowers Johnno is into I might send him them. It might not be a bad idea.
"Smithy did put a few coaching tips on the board about how to dive over the line. I took those in and then ignored them. Someone called it the 'Ash Splash'. I am not calling it that."
Johnson joked with Ashton after the game that he almost decided to haul him off as punishment.
"I said I would see him on Tuesday. I knew he would do that one at the end - we had no subs left, but I nearly put his number up anyway," Johnson said. "I told him it would have been an interesting way to end his career! You are allowed to have fun and he is a finisher. He gets in the right places and scores tries - that's what he does."
England scored eight tries in total, with Mark Cueto ending an 18 Test drought while Mike Tindall, Danny Care and James Haskell all got on the scoresheet. Ashton now has nine from his first nine Tests and he has already equalled the record of six tries in one Six Nations campaign that is currently held by Will Greenwood and Shane Williams. But Cueto has warned his team-mate that times may get tougher as teams target him and devise plans to diminish his influence.
"Teams start to target you and they will maybe throw extra defenders [at Ashton]," said Cueto. "The Italians were already quick to pick up on our support lines.
"There was once or twice when Ashy got pulled back when potentially he was going to score another try. Whenever you do your analysis on the teams you come up against you pick out the threats and without a shadow of a doubt, teams will be looking at Ashy. He has scored six tries in two games and is the out-and-out threat with England at the minute so he will be put under a lot of pressure."
That said, Cueto believes the unique way Ashton reads the game will make him very difficult to stop.
"There is an art to what he does and it is unbelievable. He just anticipates everything," he said. "He will be tracking a play from 10 metres offside just in the hope that they will make a line-break and then he will be in that position. A lot of the times, if you are not offside, you are never going to be there.
"In the past, wingers have almost trailed the play from an onside position and if someone did make a line break, you are 10 metres behind the play and it is difficult to get there."
Even if France do target Ashton, Cueto believes that can only benefit an England side which, for the first time in a long time, boasts attacking threats across the field. "It is not a case of shutting Ashy down and we stop winning. If you throw two men at Ashy then there is going to be a gap somewhere else and someone else will exploit it," Cueto said.
"Shontayne Hape and Mike Tindall in the middle were looking strong and busting through tackles and Ben Foden at the back is unsung at the minute. He is doing some great work and unfortunately not getting over the try line - a bit similar to myself (in recent games). We have people like Ben Youngs and Toby Flood at nine and 10 - I could go through the whole team and talk about threats."
England scored eight tries against Italy - two more than they managed in the whole of the 2010 Six Nations. Cueto was getting sick of having to answer questions about his try-less streak which stretched back nearly two years and was in complete contrast to the way he was playing. "It is nice to end to so-called drought," said Cueto.
"My form is as good as it has ever been. I feel brilliant every time I go out there and play. The tries haven't been coming but every other part of my play has been good. Hopefully I can continue that and the tries might just start rolling in."
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