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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 February 2007, 19:12 GMT
Ashton wants England improvement
England head coach Brian Ashton
Ashton was not overly impressed with what he saw against Italy
England coach Brian Ashton has backed his side to return to form in their Six Nations clash with Ireland on Saturday.

Ashton's side struggled to an unimpressive 20-7 win over Italy in their last outing.

"I'm confident this will be a much-enhanced performance - the players were so disappointed with the display against Italy," said Ashton.

"They want to step up two or three gears from there, and to be honest, we know we have to."

Expectations had been raised by England's encouraging display in beating Scotland 42-20 in their opening Six Nations fixture.

But a leaden showing at Twickenham, with England relying largely on the goal-kicking of Jonny Wilkinson, was seen as a step backwards.


"We can't get away with that performance against Ireland," added Ashton.

"I hope we are going to be a bit more lively around the pitch for 80 minutes.

"We tended to be one-dimensional against Italy. We got caught in a one-dimensional game, which was not our intention, but that is the way it went.

"We need more dynamism and movement, putting together a game that is going to challenge the Irish defence and putting a defence together that is going to challenge the Irish attack."

Ashton saw 14 of his 22-man squad in action for their club sides over the weekend, with six of the starting line-up playing the full 80 minutes.

The players have been very switched on

England head coach Brian Ashton

But the coach, who named his team a week early in the hope that players would be rested, said he would not overburden the players despite the demands of facing Ireland.

"The normal protocol in professional rugby is that guys have two days' recovery before they start running around again outdoors, and we have followed that despite the fact there has been a bit of a time restriction this week," he said.

"The players have been very switched on.

"The week has been split into three sections - organisational for the first part, our two outdoor training sessions for the second part, and the last part will be getting mentally prepared for what lies ahead on Saturday."

Part of what lies ahead for the England team will be the challenge of playing at Croke Park.

And the significance of the ground's history should not be lost on the England players after former Ireland full-back Conor O'Shea spoke to the squad on Tuesday.

O'Shea - who is now the RFU's National Academy director - is the son of Gaelic footballer Jerome who won three All-Ireland Gaelic Football final medals with Kerry in the 1950s.

The stadium is the home of the Gaelic Athletic Association which only lifted its ban on non-Gaelic sports, like rugby union and football, in 2005.

In 1920, British soldiers killed 14 people inside the stadium including Gaelic football player Michael Hogan.

"Conor came to see us and spoke about the history of Croke Park and its significance in Irish history and Irish culture," said Ashton.

"I felt it was a good idea, and our players were really interested. We know it is a real privilege for us to go and play there on Saturday.

"We understand the history of the culture, and we know it is a very special place to play. We are really looking forward to it."

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