DO not be fooled thinking England got lucky with their 16th straight victory as tactical periodisation inspired by a Spanish exercise physiologist friend of Jose Mourinho – who else? – actually helped win the day.
You never quite know where head coach Eddie Jones is going to venture next when revealing some of the golden nuggets he has utilised to turn the national side into such an unbreakable force.
That remarkable winning sequence looked set to be finally snapped on Saturday when faltering England, short of ideas, trailed 16-14 against a bullish Wales side heading into the 77th minute at Cardiff.
However, just as they struck late to rescue an opening Six Nations success against France, they ruthlessly did the same here, too.
Granted, they were given a helping hand – or boot, to be more precise – by their befuddled hosts.
Jonathan Davies may have nightmares for some time recalling what on earth he was doing trying to go for distance with a clearance kick from behind his own goalline in the dramatic closing stages of an epic, brutal Test.
Rather than finding Row Z, that kick only managed to find George Ford, the ball being immediately swept infield to Owen Farrell who, in turn, launched another long, accurate pass out wide to give Elliot Daly the chance to get on the outside of Alex Cuthbert.
The Wasps winger duly did. For all Wales’ dominance in large periods of this enthralling match it was suddenly game over.
Jones maintained there is nothing fortunate about such crucial moments.
Asked if it was character that edged them ever closer to breaking New Zealand’s record 18-match winning stretch, the Australian said: “Yes. And grit. And belief, believing we can win.
“And we’re fit. Were a fit side now. How many games out of our last 15 wins have we won in the last 20 minutes?
“That’s not by coincidence. It’s because we train to win those last 20 minutes. We back ourselves. Wales were the benchmark team in Europe for winning games in the last 20. Now we’ve beaten them three times in a row so maybe we deserve that title.”
He was pressed further on what has changed to give England such crucial stamina in the critical final quarter of Test matches.
“We use a methodology which I’ve borrowed from soccer called tactical periodisation,” Jones continued. “Every day we train a specific parameter of the game. We have one day where we have a physical session and do more contacts than we would do in a game.
“Then we have a fast day where we try to train for at least 60 per cent of the session above game speed. We don’t do any extra fitness. It’s all done within those training sessions. Because of that we’ve improved our fitness enormously. I’ve been doing it for Japan, probably from the second year I was there, and then I’ve done it with England.
“I went down and met a bloke in Qatar. He’s a Spanish exercise physiologist (Alberto Mendez-Villanueva) who had worked with Jose Mourinho (Manchester United manager). He’s been involved in it quite a bit. He’s a very nice fellow but I didn’t like Qatar much. I definitely won’t be going there for the World Cup in 2022.”
It is the Rugby World Cup in Japan three years before that that is uppermost in Jones’s mind.
There was more evidence here that his side are building something impressive towards that.
Admittedly, they were on the ropes for large periods and, having led 13-8 at the break following Liam Williams’s slick set-move try and eight points from Leigh Halfpenny’s boot, Wales should have pushed on to seal it.
However, they wasted two glorious opportunities, turned down chances at goal and, bizarrely, replaced brilliant Ross Moriarty on 53 minutes despite the relentless Gloucester No 8 hammering dazed opponents at every turn.
England had taken the lead via Ben Youngs’s 18th-minute try and, with Owen Farrell adding two penalties to his first half effort, were always in touching distance.
Once again, just as against France, their bench proved effective with centre Ben Te’o launching the raid that got Wales in trouble before Williams’s error.
Jones replaced Dylan Hartley as early as the 47th minute raising questions again about the captain’s hold on a starting jersey.
Yet Jones insisted: “Every decision is made on the ability of the player to work. When they start getting slow off the ground we make a change. It’s got nothing to do with anything else.
“In terms of getting off the ground, we are seven per cent below New Zealand and still not where we need to be. But when I started I think some of the blokes had a cup of tea and a scone with jam and cream before they got off the ground. It was terrible. The improvement has been enormous.”
Wales: Halfpenny; Cuthbert, J Davies, S Williams (Roberts 71), L Williams; Biggar, Webb (G Davies 65); Evans (N Smith 53), Owens (Baldwin 60), Francais (Lee 53), Ball, Jones, Warburton, Tipuric (Hill 78), Moriarty (Faletau 53). Unused: S Davies.
England: Brown; Nowell (May 71), Joseph (Te’0 63), Farrell, Daly; Ford, Youngs (Care 63); Marler (Mullan 71), Hartley (George 47), Cole (Snickler 71), Launchbury, Lawes, Itoje, Clifford (Haskell 49), Hughes. Unused: Wood.
Referee: J Garces (France).