Manu Tuilagi led the onslaught as England kept up the pressure on Grand Slam-chasing Wales by overwhelming Italy 57-14 at Twickenham.
Tries by Jamie George, Jonny May, Tuilagi and Brad Shields sealed the bonus point in the 32nd minute to break Ireland’s Six Nations record for the fastest produced by three minutes.
Tuilagi was a marauding presence until his exit in the final quarter and it was fitting that he followed up his first Test try for five years – his last was also against Italy – with a second soon after the interval.
Predictably enough, Conor O’Shea’s men were overpowered with Tuilagi supported by the equally devastating Joe Cokanasiga, who set off like a freight train, faded and then finished explosively.
George Kruis, Dan Robson and Shields added final-quarter tries and it was a bulldozing run from man of the match Cokanasiga that enabled the replacement scrum-half to cross.
It was not until the 62nd minute that Eddie Jones decided to field Robson and George Ford and given the result was effectively sealed around the half-hour mark, it once again highlighted the reliance on Owen Farrell and Ben Youngs.
For England to now clinch the Six Nations title Wales must fall to Ireland in the final round next Saturday and Scotland must be swept aside in a bonus-point win at Twickenham.
They are well placed to capitalise on an upset at the Principality Stadium, while at the opposite end of the table Italy are playing to avoid the wooden spoon.
Aside from their resilience and occasional spells of effective rugby, there was little for them to salvage from their visit to London and the calls for a play-off for Six Nations relegation to be introduced will only grow louder.
Josh Adams has hailed the Wales players’ professionalism as they prepare to continue their Six Nations title and Grand Slam quest against a backdrop of political turmoil.
Worcester wing Adams’ late try sealed victory for Wales over England a fortnight ago.
And the unbeaten Six Nations leaders now face Scotland at Murrayfield, where a fourth successive win in this season’s tournament would leave them chasing silverware against Ireland in Cardiff on Saturday week.
But while Wales look to capture European rugby’s biggest prize, off the field it is a story of domestic strife as debate rages about so-called ‘Project Reset’ and how Wales’ professional regional game will look from next season.
Talks now appear to be deadlocked, a proposed Scarlets-Ospreys merger is off the table and considerable uncertainty remains.
But despite potential distractions, Adams has no doubt that Wales are concentrated totally on their Murrayfield mission.
“We know the importance of this game, and we have to back up the performance against England,” he said. “We are ready to go.
“The boys have taken it in their stride. Every time we have gone on to the training field the focus has been on the rugby.
“All the boys have been really professional in how they have dealt with the situation. The focus is all on Saturday.
“All the goings-on off the field might add fuel to the fire.
“Everything we have done in training has been as normal, and the focus has been there, which has been really good with the distractions elsewhere.
“Everybody is feeling confident. We are just looking forward to getting out there, and come 2.15pm on Saturday, we will let it rip.”
Adams has been one of Wales’ success stories during a 12-Test unbeaten run that stretches back to February last year.
He scored tries in Wales’ last two Six Nations games, and is rapidly emerging as a player who could shine in the high-octane atmosphere of a World Cup later this year.
“I am feeling good at the minute,” the 23-year-old added. “I am looking forward to taking another opportunity and putting my best foot forward again.
“Time in the jersey does help. You learn with each Test match you play.
“The majority of the guys involved in the autumn Tests have come through into the Six Nations. Togetherness is really good.
Alun Wyn Jones offers his thoughts on tomorrow's big @SixNationsRugby clash with Scotland 🏴 Mae'r capten am weld Cymru'n adeiladu ar eu perfformiadau hyd yn hyn yn y gystadleuaeth. #HWFN pic.twitter.com/bZ4iSMSX0G— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) 8 March 2019
“All the boys get on well, and that reflects on how we play. We all work really hard for each other. If someone makes a mistake, the guy next to you is working hard to fix it.”
Although Wales have beaten Scotland 11 times from the last 12 attempts, including four out of five in Edinburgh, memories remain from Murrayfield two years ago.
On that occasion, Wales let slip a 13-9 interval advantage and conceded 20 unanswered second-half points as they crashed to an emphatic defeat.
“The boys are still hurting a little bit from that,” Adams said. “They did not perform to the best of their ability, and that was the most frustrating thing.
“If you are a per cent or two off, teams will punish you. It is a little bit of revenge for two years ago, and I am sure the boys who were there that day will want to make amends.
Giant England wing Joe Cokanasiga has the world at his feet, according to the player currently viewed as the game’s deadliest finisher.
Cokanasiga will win his fourth cap in Saturday’s Six Nations clash with Italy at Twickenham as part of a three-quarter line that includes fellow Pacific Islander heavyweights Ben Te’o and Manu Tuilagi.
The Fijian-born 21-year-old used his 6-foot 4-inch, 18-stone frame to flatten Japan and Australia in his only previous starts last autumn to hint at his destructive potential in the Test arena.
Jonny May, whose 12 tries in 13 starts identify him as rugby’s premier wing on form, believes he has the attributes needed to become a rugby sensation.
“Joe is very gifted athletically and he’s also a huge bloke. He’s strong and very, very fast. He has got the world at his feet, really,” May said.
“For a winger, that athletic ability is huge and then on top of that you’ve got to build your smartness and your game understanding. He’s continuing to do that.
“He’s getting better, he’s learning and he’s added to the group. He has earned his opportunity this week and I’m sure he’s going to have a pretty decent game.
“I haven’t known Joe that long but he’s quite quiet. He has a little bit of cheekiness about him – he has got a cheeky grin on his face.
“He is quite a reserved guy but he is starting to open up a little bit more. We might have a game of pool with him, or a game of darts, and have a laugh.”
Eddie Jones’ team selection – described by Conor O’Shea as “full metal jacket” – points to a direct approach of using brute force to batter Italy, but May insists they must adapt quickly if the bludgeon proves ineffective.
Two years ago Azzurri coach O’Shea used his no-ruck tactics to outscheme England and the controversial game plan that resulted in a law change still rankles with Jones.
May admits the confusion it caused in English ranks was not the nation’s finest hour but, apart from the second half against Wales in round three, he sees evidence that on-field adjustments can be made when needed.
“Look back to 2017 when Italy did the ruck thing – we didn’t adapt very well then. But this group has matured and learned,” May said.
“We have a brilliant leadership group and brilliant coaches. The game is always going to test you.
“Against Wales, we failed that test but we have passed some tests recently as well.
“No matter what Italy present to us, there is going to be ways around it and it’s up to us to find that way on the pitch.”
May is available to face Italy after passing the return to play protocols for concussion having taken a blow to the head at the Principality Stadium, although he would have been able to make an immediate return to play had he not tried to game the test.
“I failed the HIA so I stayed off. I got the words wrong. It’s funny – all the HIAs I’ve done in the past have a list of words like candle, paper, sugar, wagon, finger, lemon.
“I think I was reeling off words from previous tests that I’d remembered to try and get out there quickly.
“He was looking at me a bit funny. I think I was miles off. It was more my mistake.”