Chris Ashton’s sensational four-try blitz sparked England to a 59-13 thrashing of Italy, while Wales battled to a morale-boosting 24-6 win in Scotland to claim their first points in the Six Nations on Saturday.
Ashton became the first player to score four tries in a Six Nations game and the first England player to do so in the northern hemisphere championship in 96 years by going over twice in each half at Twickenham, taking his tally for this season’s tournament to six.
Mark Cueto, Mike Tindall, Danny Care and James Haskell also went over for England, who have won both their matches so far and remain on course for a first Six Nations title since 2003 — the year they won the World Cup.
Ashton is proving their totem and his trademark swallow-dive celebration, which he did twice against Italy, is rapidly becoming the image of this year’s tournament.
“I knew he [England manager Martin Johnson] would be a bit annoyed — the lads said he would be — so I thought I’d do it,” Ashton said of his celebration, which earned him a dressing down by Johnson last week after he did it against Wales.
Having crossed twice in -Cardiff, his six tries overall meant he equaled the competition record held by compatriot Will Greenwood and Wales winger Shane Williams.
“I’m just glad to be in the team and I hope we carry on winning in the Six Nations,” he said.
Williams scored two tries and flyhalf James Hook kicked 14 points at Murrayfield to help Wales end an eight-match winless run.
The pressure had been on coach Warren Gatland and his team after the defeat to England, but Wales put in a solid defensive effort and Williams provided the cutting edge, moving him onto 55 international tries — third in the all-time list.
“We are a resilient bunch and we really wanted to put things right after last week. Everyone’s blowing really hard, but we got the result out there,” Wales flanker Sam Warburton said.
England have two more home games to come — against France and Scotland — before a visit to Ireland on the final weekend.
Aside from Ashton’s marvelous finishing and the continued strong form of flyhalf Toby Flood, Johnson will be happy with the way his entire side is progressing ahead of the World Cup this year and they simply blew away Italy, who have still never beaten England.
“We got the tempo into the game and got some fatigue in them pretty quickly, but did I think we would get that many? Probably not,” Johnson said.
Ashton grabbed tries in the third and 25th minutes, while opposite winger Cueto — with his first try in 19 tests — and Tindall also went over to earn England a 31-6 halftime lead.
Ashton bookended the second half with well-taken tries too, with replacement hooker Fabio Ongaro crossing for Italy’s consolation in the 70th.
Flood finished with 13 points and his replacement, Jonny Wilkinson, added six more. Mirco Bergamasco kicked the rest of the Azzurri’s points.
“It’s a very unhappy dressing room and I’m a very unhappy coach,” Italy’s Nick Mallett said.
Wales jumpstarted their campaign by beating Scotland, who lost their opening game 34-21 in France last week.
James Hook, brought in by Wales to provide some creativity at flyhalf, set up Williams’ first try in the seventh and the Ospreys No. 10 kicked three penalties to push the visitors to a 16-3 halftime lead.
Dan Parks reduced Scotland’s deficit to 16-6 with penalties either side of the break, but Hook’s fourth penalty and Williams’ second try, when he ran on to Jonathan Davies’ kick forward, wrapped up the points.