By Alasdair Mackenzie
ROME (Reuters) - Wales moved to within one step of a Six Nations Grand Slam after scoring seven tries in a 48-7 thrashing of Italy in Rome on Saturday.
Wayne Pivac's side, fresh from sealing the Triple Crown against England, made short work of the error-plagued Azzurri and will clinch a stunning Grand Slam if they beat France in Paris on March 20.
Tries from Josh Adams, Taulupe Faletau and two from hooker Ken Owens ensured that the bonus point was wrapped up inside 30 minutes at the Stadio Olimpico.
George North, replacement Callum Sheedy and Louis Rees-Zammit dotted down to compound the hosts' misery in the second half, with Montanna Ioane's try providing their only consolation.
Wales sit top of the table with 19 points, but second-placed France on nine points face England at Twickenham later on Saturday and have a game in hand at home to Scotland still to come.
"We were pretty clinical, particularly in the first half. We're a tad frustrated with the second half but it's a case of job done and plenty to work on," Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones told S4C.
"The excitement I feel every time I pull on this red jersey is insurmountable, so I'm looking forward to getting back to it on Monday and preparing for next weekend."
Italy, who suffered their 31st consecutive Six Nations defeat, are rooted to the bottom of the table with zero points, having conceded 187 points in their four defeats so far.
Wales coach Pivac spoke before the match about wanting to see an 80-minute performance from his team and they started strongly.
First Adams and then Faletau benefited from slick Welsh handling to touch down in either corner while Italy captain Luca Bigi was in the sin bin.
Owens dived over the line from the back of a driving maul before stretching to dot down his second of the afternoon, becoming the first hooker to score two tries in a Six Nations game since Shane Byrne of Ireland in February 2004.
Rees-Zammit had a try disallowed for a Dan Biggar forward pass, but Wales added a further score two minutes into the second half when North stormed through midfield to go under the posts.
Ioane’s improvised chip-and-chase try earned the Azzurri an impressive consolation and Wales almost immediately responded, but Adams’ foot strayed into touch before he could ground the ball for his second try.
Pivac emptied his bench by the 56th minute to give key players like Biggar, Owens and Wyn Jones some rest ahead of their trip to France.
But the tries kept coming after Italy replacement prop Marco Riccioni was sin-binned, as Sheedy found a gap to score his first try for Wales and Rees-Zammit intercepted a loose pass to sprint clear from his own 22-metre line.
It was Wales’ 16th win in a row over Italy, marking their longest winning run against one opponent since a 15-match streak against France between 1908 and 1927.
(Reporting by Alasdair Mackenzie; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Toby Davis)