Ashton promises ‘Real England” against Italy

Ashton insisted the “real England” would be on show in Sunday’s Six Nations game against Italy as the team looked to recover from its dramatic 26-19 first round defeat against Wales.

Injuries forced the coach to make five changes to his starting side.

In the midst of such upheaval, it was no surprise he retained Jonny Wilkinson even though the outside-half had a below par match at Twickenham last Saturday, particularly when Wales overturned a 13-point deficit in the final quarter.

“There’s a real determination to make sure when we get out on the field on Sunday, for the whole of the game, you see the real England,” Ashton told reporters at England’s hotel here Wednesday.

“It wasn’t the brightest rugby (against Wales). It all happened in six minutes, between minute 61 and minute 67, 17 points were scored and I don’t think the opposition had to do much to contribute to them.

“Now it’s happened, you can put measures in place to prevent it happening again. You’d hope the players have learnt their lessons.

“There is a strong argument to say they should have learnt that already but it’s very rare to see in international rugby a team so clearly on top give away 17 points in that fashion.” But Ashton insisted England would not now retreat into their shells.

“The team going out to play on Sunday is going out to play some rugby.

We don’t want to end up playing the same game we played against Italy last year, when we played in just a 15-metre channel.

“It would be very easy for us this week to go into a very tight mentality saying ‘we can’t afford to lose or not do this or that’.

However, Ashton was also adamant England would need to be more streetwise if, as happened against Wales, they had a 13-point lead when Jonny Wilkinson threw a wayward pass to newcomer Danny Cipriani.

“If we get in that situation this week, the players have got a pretty shrewd idea of what’s expected of them,” Ashton said.

Wilkinson, the hero of England’s win in the 2003 World Cup final and the man who scored all their points as their bid for back-to-back global titles ended in defeat against South Africa in October, kicked 14 points against Wales, leaving him needing just four short of reaching 1,000 for England.

But he struggled to impose himself on open play. “Jonny played some good stuff the first 50 minutes,” said Ashton.

“But in terms of game management that is a collective responsibilty.

Those days are long gone, when the No 10 had got to take charge of the game on his own.”


Wilkinson was under pressure for his place from the likes of Cipriani and Shane Geraghty but Ashton said: “I think this weekend he (Wilkinson) is still the best man to go on the field at the start of the game.” Andrew Sheridan became the latest addition to the injury list on Wednesday.

The prop, whose placed was taken by Tim Payne, who wrecked Australia’s scrum was taken to a local hospital on Tuesday near the squad’s Bath University training base, with an abcess adjacent to his right Achilles tendon.

It was his second freak injury in recent after being ruled out with an insect bite before England’s World Cup warm-up match away to France.

Tonga-born former New Zealand rugby league international Lesley Vainikolo, who came off the bench for the injured David Strettle at Twickenham, was handed his first England start after the Harlequin wing was ruled out with a broken foot.

In the centres there was a recall for Jamie Noon, whose World Cup was cut short by a knee injury. He replaced Mike Tindall, who suffered a bruised liver against Wales.

There were two other changes in the pack with Nick Easter, fit after a knee injury, replacing Luke Narraway, who made his debut against Wales and Bath flanker Michael Lipman in for Lewis Moody, who suffered an Achilles injury at Twickenham.

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