CHRIS ASHTON inspired improving England to their biggest win under Martin Johnson – yet the team manager is still demanding more from his players.
Italy put up little resistance at Twickenham as they were brushed aside 59-13 by ruthless England who have made an emphatic statement about their Six Nations’ grand slam credentials in the opening two matches.
But with reigning champions France up next at headquarters, Johnson is setting high standards for his squad.
“Do we have to be better in two weeks? Yeah, of course we do,” said Johnson, whose team have won five of their last seven games since a win in Sydney last June transformed his stewardship.
“I was pleased with lots of stuff we did, but you focus on the stuff that you’ve got to get better.
“We should be making it difficult for Italy when they come to Twickenham.
“When we executed well, we made it difficult for them, but when we tried to force it or weren’t good enough on the ball, we didn’t.”
England ran in eight tries with Ashton scoring four. His tally is now nine from nine internationals and six in two, taking him to within one of eclipsing the record for a single Six Nations campaign held by Will Greenwood (2001) and Shane Williams (2008).
“Chris took his tries well,” added Johnson, who also joked that he had reprimanded his star winger for the now infamous ‘swallow’ dive that he does to greet a score.
“He’s a finisher, and it was good that Mark (Cueto) got his as well (on Saturday).
“Chris is a predator, gets in the right places and that’s what he does. He’s always popping up and scoring.
“He’s reinvigorated that back three, Mark in particular.
“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.
“At the start of last season Chris wasn’t sure of place in the Northampton team, and he’s playing for England by the end of it.”
Johnson also reserved praise for his dynamic half-back partnership of Ben Youngs and Toby Flood.
Both were heavily involved in England’s incisive attacking play that made a mockery of the belief that Italy would be hard to penetrate through the middle, before Leeds-born Danny Care and Jonny Wilkinson stepped off the bench to continue the attacking threat.
Care scored his third try in England colours and Wilkinson added three late conversions before making a try-saving tackle.
Johnson, for whom Otley-born captain Mike Tindall was also a try-scorer, said: “Our half-backs are going to put you under pressure at the breakdown, perhaps more than any other team.
“They’re going to come round the edges and put you under pressure. Youngsy had good tempo and Danny came off the bench and had one of his better games for us, maintaining that tempo.”
Victories over Wales and Italy mirror England’s start to last year’s Six Nations, before they went on to pick up only one more point in the remaining three games.
The manner of these opening two triumphs, however, suggests the return from this year’s decisive trio of matches is likely to be much improved.
Match report: Page 7.