England crushed Italy beneath a deluge of tries as they attempted to overhaul Ireland’s superior points difference of plus 49 and secure a first Six Nations title under Stuart Lancaster.
Mike Brown’s sensational Championship continued with his brace of tries decorating a fine individual contribution, while Owen Farrell, Jack Nowell, Mako Vunipola, Manu Tuilagi and Chris Robshaw also crossed in the 52-11 victory.
Tuilagi made his first England appearance in a year after completing his comeback from chest surgery, replacing Luther Burrell at outside centre with half an hour to go, and made inroads into a tiring Italy defence.
Once more Farrell’s goal kicking was outstanding, with the British and Irish Lion converting all seven tries and also slotting a penalty, but the stand-off was lucky to escape a late yellow card after tackling Edoardo Gori around the throat and wrestling him to the ground.
Throughout the preceding week England had stated that winning was their only ambition for the climax to their Six Nations in Rome, but the attacking intent evident from the kick off told a different story.
At times they played with too much haste and the resulting lack of accuracy disrupted their momentum, preventing them from posting the necessary winning margin to trouble Ireland on points difference.
A cagey opening saw Italy dominate possession and draw first blood with a long-range penalty from Luciano Orquera that was greeted with a mighty roar from the sell-out 80,000 crowd.
Farrell levelled the score with a penalty and the Red Rose went on the offensive, rapidly spinning the ball left and right as they probed for weaknesses.
A brilliant offload from Luther Burrell pierced Italy’s defence with the Northampton centre’s pass out of a tackle by Gonzalo Garcia finding Brown, who switched on the afterburners and raced over.
Loosehead Mako Vunipola was penalised at a scrum and Orquera obliged with the three points to keep Italy in touch.
Brown was involved in just about every England move and when Burrell powered into space and fed Danny Care they looked on for a second try, but Italy’s cover defence was solid.
Burrell and Care were prominent as England attacked again and this time they were able to cross the whitewash, Care darting across field and sending Farrell in under the posts.
The floodgates were already opening and this time Farrell was the provider as he rode a tackle and expertly slipped a pass to Brown who galloped over.
Michele Campagnaro took advantage of Burrell being caught out of position to break free amid a promising start to the second half from Italy, but England were soon back on the offensive.
The tempo was lifted but passes were failing to stick, No.8 Ben Morgan knocking on at full tilt and Vunipola spilling forward.
Burrell went within a whisker of scoring but the ball was kicked from his grasp by an unconventional late tackle made out of hope rather than expectation.
Italy’s problems mounted when Marco Bortolami was sin-binned for off-side and soon after their whitewash was breached for a fourth time, Nowell rounding off a backs move at a scrum.
Adding to their woes was the 53rd-minute arrival of Tuilagi from the bench, although the decision to bring him on at the expense of the superb Burrell was odd.
Italy’s defence was falling to pieces and they effectively waved England through for their next two tries, with Vunipola and Tuilagi strolling over.
It was then the visitors’ turn to blunder, however, with wing Leonardo Sarto picking off an intercept try from Joe Launchbury’s pass.
The flow of tries had dried up, but there was still time for one more, with captain Chris Robshaw taking Farrell’s injury-time pass and coasting over.
England coach Lancaster was proud of the performance his players produced, regardless of the destination of the Six Nations title.
The Cumbrian said: “We scored some great tries and we’ve come here and scored 50, and not many teams have done that, in fact very, very few.
“There were some errors in the first half, but I’m just proud of the boys. It’s a great squad we’ve got developing and the bigger picture is important.
“The match against France was frustrating, but then look at the performance against Scotland, the Ireland performance, the Wales performance, and I don’t think anyone has come here and scored as many as we have today.
“So you’ve got to be proud of the boys really.”
Captain Chris Robshaw was aware Italy’s late try from Sarto could prove costly, but felt his side did everything that was asked of them.
“The response after [defeat to] France has been outstanding and now we just have to sit and wait,” he said, before the France v Irelabd game kicked off.
“We always knew it was going to be tough. The last two encounters we’ve had against Italy there was no more than a score in it.
“We were focused and ready. We came here to score 50 points and that’s what we did, but unfortunately we conceded. If we hadn’t conceded I’m not sure what it would have been (the points difference) but we’re still in a good position.”
Brown was named man of the match for his try-scoring exploits but was quick to point out the impact the team had as a whole.
He said: “First and foremost we wanted to come here and put in a performance and win, and we scored a good few tries.
“And the way we played was outstanding. We were definitely trying to play with tempo. All credit to the boys for their efforts today, it was a squad effort.”