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Page last updated at 06:55 GMT, Monday, 14 February 2011

Boss Martin Johnson hails progress of Chris Ashton

Chris Ashton and Nick Easter

Highlights - Ashton scores four tries in England's 59-13 win over Italy

England manager Martin Johnson claimed Saturday's try-scoring hero Chris Ashton has defied expectation since his conversion from rugby league.

Ashton, 23, went over four times in the 59-13 thumping of Italy to become the first Englishman to achieve the feat in a Five or Six Nations match since 1914.

And Johnson admitted he was "very pleased" with the progress of the player who switched to union in 2007.

"I don't think anyone could have said he would be where he is," said Johnson.

Following his touchdowns in the 26-19 opening victory over Wales in Cardiff, winger Ashton's rampant display against the Italians at Twickenham took his tally for the tournament to six - equalling the try-scoring record for one Six Nations campaign held by compatriot Will Greenwood (2001) and Wales' Shane Williams (2008).

Martin Johnson

Johnson happy but still eyes improvement

Ashton, who scored on his debut for Saints following his move from Super League club Wigan Warriors, has now scored nine tries in nine Tests since making his international union debut in the 12-10 loss to France on 20 March 2010.

The Northampton man's free-scoring habit has prompted comparisons with another league convert, Jason Robinson, who scored 30 tries in 56 internationals, including a memorable dash to the line in the 2003 World Cup final triumph over Australia.

But Johnson is wary of comparing the two.

"Chris is a bit different," added Johnson, whose side are now joint top of the Six Nations table on points difference from second-placed France.

"When Jason Robinson came into the team he was different in how he played and Chris is different again.

"We need finishers. They make the difference in games. 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 a place in the Northampton team and he was playing for England by the end of it

England manager Martin Johnson

"The world is very, very quick now. At the start of last season Chris wasn't sure of a place in the Northampton team and he was playing for England by the end of it."

Rory Underwood, who amassed 85 caps between 1984 and 1996, has predicted Ashton will break his record of 49 England tries but the Northampton wing has said he has not given the possible milestone a thought.

"The day I start looking at records is the day I am sure I will stop scoring tries," Ashton commented.

"My aim when I got in the team was to play the best I could and hopefully the tries would come from that. Thankfully, it is all going right for us."

After the narrow seven-point win over Wales, England's eight-try destruction of an Italian team coached by Nick Mallett on Saturday sent a warning to their Six Nations rivals.

Perennial wooden-spooners they may be, but the Azzurri had arrived in south west London on the back of a creditable showing in Rome against Ireland, who they led with two minutes remaining only for a late Ronan O'Gara drop-goal to earn the visitors the two points.

Ashton's haul at English rugby headquarters added to tries from Mike Tindall, Mark Cueto, James Haskell and Danny Care was two more than England had managed in the whole of the 2010 campaign.

And Johnson was quick to credit his side's new-found thrust from open play with the change in the interpretation of the breakdown rules, which now favour the attacking team.

"You can't underestimate the way the breakdown has been refereed in the last 12 months," World Cup winner Johnson added.

"It has given us more attacking opportunities. The players have the licence to go and play.

"It is a good environment. It has to be fun - and Chris is enjoying what he does - but you have to be good as well. Everything is a balance."

Johnson's troops will most likely face the sternest test of their championship mettle in their next outing against France, who looked below par but still fended off Ireland 25-22 in Dublin to move level on points with England on Sunday.

"Every game is different and you have to manage it," Johnson continued. "We need to enjoy ourselves after a job well done and then get back to work next week. France are a different challenge in how they play.

"The guys are starting to understand the detail of what Test match rugby is about at times."

A happy France fan

Six Nations in 60 seconds - week two

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see also
Ashton 'swallow dives' to opening try
12 Feb 11 |  Rugby Union
Teams will target Ashton - Cueto
13 Feb 11 |  English
England 59-13 Italy
12 Feb 11 |  Rugby Union
England need to improve - Johnson
13 Feb 11 |  English
England v Italy photos
12 Feb 11 |  Rugby Union
England v Italy stats
12 Feb 11 |  Rugby Union
Ashton rebuked after England win
09 Feb 11 |  Rugby Union
Six Nations table
10 Aug 06 |  Tables

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