Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Rugby Union: Enthusiasm's Alive despite Week of Hell; Injury Woes Pile Up after Shocking Defeat but Ashton

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Rugby Union: Enthusiasm's Alive despite Week of Hell; Injury Woes Pile Up after Shocking Defeat but Ashton

Article excerpt

BRIAN Ashton insists England are ready for their Italian job tomorrow - and he is confident it will not be a botched mission.

The World Cup finalists, quite simply, have endured a week from hell. Beaten at home by Wales one minute, then deprived of five players - Mike Tindall, David Strettle, Andrew Sheridan, Lewis Moody and Tom Rees - through injury or illness the next, Ashton could have been excused for locking the door and lying down in a darkened room.

The casualty count could yet increase, with captain Phil Vickery battling to overcome a calf muscle injury that threatens his participation at Stadio Flaminio.

If Vickery, who was hurt during training in Bath on Thursday, is ruled out, then Matt Stevens will deputise at tighthead prop with uncapped Bristol forward Jason Hobson joining the replacements. Either Newcastle Falcons fly-half Jonny Wilkinson, who was verbally slaughtered by many pundits following his poor second-half display against Wales, or lock Steve Borthwick can confidently be expected to take leadership reins in Vickery's absence.

History heavily favours England against Italy in Rome. On four previous visits, they have registered 185 points in maintaining a 100% record, which is seven points more than during a quartet of Twickenham Six Nations wins at the Azzurri's expense.

And if England are to have any chance of resurrecting their RBS 6 Nations campaign - and a possible title bid - there can be no hangover from the pain inflicted by Wales.

Ashton said: "We are going into the game in a very positive frame of mind. We cleared up on Monday what happened last weekend. The players have worked very hard this week. There has been a good level of execution and accuracy in training.

"You can't hide away from what happened last weekend, and when it does happen, you have to address it. I wasn't happy at all with the last 20 minutes against Wales. I am very confident that if we were in that situation again, the outcome would be slightly different."

And despite the crushing Wales setback, head coach Ashton hopes England can take another step down the evolution route towards playing a more complete brand of rugby.

He added: "The general mood in the camp is one of we've set our stall out, we've all bought into this. What we don't want now is any black sheep, either on the playing side or management side, saying 'hang on a minute, this is far too dangerous and risky'.

"We are probably now in a transition phase with some of the younger players coming into the side, which is something I envisaged happening possibly a little bit further down the line. We are actually now in it, and it's pretty exciting. I think the players are in the same frame of mind as me. They see the excitement coming into the team and it does add to the general excitement about what this team might be capable of. …

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