England finished strongly to beat Italy 34-5 in Rome and put themselves in prime position to win the Six Nations championship but they must wait until the end of the France v Ireland game later to discover if they have done enough. 

Ireland need to beat France by six points, while scoring at least one try, or by seven clear points to claim the title.

England, who began the day 23 points behind Ireland on points difference and two ahead of France, are now six ahead of the Irish and will hope they don't manage a bonus-point win over the French that would give them the title whatever the score. 

England, playing their first game since March, made hard work of it and started to gain control only when scrum-half Ben Youngs marked his 100th appearance with his second try to open up a 17-5 lead early in the second half. 

Further tries for Jamie George, Tom Curry and Henry Slade took England clear but it was a performance to forget, albeit one that might be enough to secure their third title in five years. 

Suffering from the cancellation of the Barbarians fixture that was to be their warm-up, they looked every bit a team that had been inactive for the last seven months because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Italy fought hard but when George touched down on his 50th cap, any remote hopes of staging an upset faded and England registered the crucial bonus point when Curry surged over from close range.

Slade added the fifth and final try to set up an anxious wait, knowing the destiny of the title is in Irish hands.

England have won all 26 previous meetings with Italy, scoring an average of over 40 points each time, and a year to the day after losing the 2019 World Cup final to South Africa they inflicted a 33rd successive Championship defeat on the Azzurri.

All week they talked about the need to show patience in shaking off the rustiness of having not played since mid-March, but it took only four minutes to breach the home defence.

Mako Vunipola was the engineer, the Saracens prop standing at first receiver and sending Owen Farrell into a gap before Youngs appeared on his shoulder to finish the move.

Italy were in full retreat in every department and it took furious defence to keep out the white shirts, so it was a conservative decision when Farrell opted for three points when offered a penalty in front of the posts.

Slade slides in for a try

England pressed again but a fumble by Kyle Sinckler was pounced upon by centre Carlo Canna, who gathered and carried before a rampaging Jake Polledri arrived on an excellent line to storm over the whitewash.

Another setback came in the 23rd minute when Jonny Hill's debut soured upon catching Edoardo Padovani on the head with an arm, forcing the Italian wing to undergo an HIA and earning the Chiefs double-winner a yellow card.

Jones slammed down his radio device in anger at referee Pascal Gauzere's decision and what followed would not have pleased the Australian head coach either.

Italy began to attack with tempo and made inroads, winning successive penalties which they cleverly used to build pressure.

A driving line-out took them over the whitewash but they were held up with Hill under the ball and they crumbled at the ensuing five-metre scrum, costing them a glorious chance.

Polledri entered the sin-bin for going in at the side but just as England began to hammer away from close range, they conceded a penalty to enable Italy to escape and even momentarily threaten at the other end.

An unimpressive 10-5 interval lead was extended 56 seconds into the second half when Hill charged down a box kick and Maro Itoje secured the loose ball.

Spotting a gap at the ruck, Youngs dummied and slid through the hole before beating full-back Matteo Minozzi.
With half an hour to go, daylight opened up as George finished a driving maul but Italy refused to fold as they continued to scrap.

Finally they began to buckle, Curry spotting an unguarded blindside to scamper over before Ben Earl and Slade took advantage of an absent Azzurri defence for the latter to complete the rout.