Wingers Mark Cueto and Chris Ashton both scored hat-tricks as England turned on the style to run in 10 tries in a 67-3 thrashing of Romania in their penultimate World Cup Pool B game on Saturday.
On a cold, wet night the indoor Otago Stadium came into its own and England, often written off as a one-dimensional forwards-based team, took full advantage of the perfect conditions with some slick backline play, carving openings almost at will.
Flyhalf Jonny Wilkinson, replaced at halftime by Toby Flood, had one of his best 40 minutes in an England shirt, standing high and firing out crisp passes for his willing runners.
Manager Martin Johnson had demanded a step up in terms of execution and discipline after the two patchy opening wins and got both in a comprehensive destruction of a Romanian side who had opted to rest several leading players ahead of their final pool game against Georgia on Wednesday.
Scotland next Saturday and England’s subsequent knockout stage opponents will not offer the same freedom but the Six Nations champions certainly looked a much-improved side and will be difficult opposition for anyone over the next three weeks as they seek to reach their third successive final.
“That’s what happens when we keep hold of the ball and do the basics right,” said England captain Lewis Moody. “They were very physical and full credit to Romania but we had a point to prove to ourselves and we have gone some way to doing that.”
After giving away more than 20 penalties in their first two games and receiving two yellow cards as a result, England were much more circumspect around the breakdown, knowing there was no need to take risks, such was their dominance.
They had also talked about injecting tempo into their game and they did it from the off, the forwards working hard to create quick ball and the backs using it smartly.
The first try came after 16 minutes when Wilkinson’s quick pass sent Ashton clear and he handed Cueto, making his first appearance of the tournament after overcoming a back problem a simple score.
Within 12 minutes Cueto had completed his hat-trick after a quick tap penalty by Ben Youngs opened huge holes in the Romanian defence for his second and another Ashton break created the third.
He became the third England player to score a World Cup hat-trick, following Mike Harrison against Japan in 1987 and Josh Lewsey, who scored five against Uruguay in 2003.
Ashton, who had been popping up all over the pitch, then took centre stage as he ran onto another superb inside ball from Wilkinson, looking as sharp as at any time in his glittering career.
A burst by lock Louis Deacon set up Ashton’s second, and fourth of the tournament, to give England a 34-3 halftime lead as Marin Dumbrava eventually put Romania on the board with a penalty.
England added to their tally within 30 seconds of the restart as Manu Tuilagi galloped up the right wing and sent Youngs clear for the try his excellent performance deserved.
Tuilagi, whose powerful running has brought a new cutting edge to England’s midfield since he made his debut in the August warm-up games, then set up fullback Ben Foden for England’s seventh before then breaking through two tackles to get his own name on the scoreboard.
Flanker Tom Croft then grabbed the ninth try before Ashton completed his hat-trick 10 minutes from time, Flood adding his fourth conversion from five attempts.
“These games can be awkward, but we kept our discipline pretty well,” said Johnson. “It was job done tonight, and now we go into a massive week.”
Losing skipper Marius Tincu said: “Romania had no chance today. England was a very big team but I am very proud for my players because we are not a professional team. We play for happiness and very proud for that.” – Reuters
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