England taken to the limit by cycling guru's fitness push

Lancaster's side beating opponents thanks to methods of Matt Parker, the ex-Team GB expert

There are few obvious similarities between the cryotherapy chambers of central Poland and the baronial splendour of a country estate hotel in blue-blooded Surrey, but when it comes to international rugby, the two have this much in common: cutting-edge fitness. What Wales achieved at the last World Cup – and again in winning the Grand Slam last season – was due in no small part to the training camps they held in Eastern Europe. England? They have put themselves ahead of the game by staying put in the home counties and investing in the latest thinking.

Stuart Lancaster's team, warm favourites for this year's Six Nations title, are by common consent the best conditioned side in Europe. In the vast majority of their matches since the change of coaching regime 14 months ago, they have finished the stronger – a last-quarter advantage so frequent that it cannot be explained away as a mere coincidence.

According to Ben Youngs, the scrum-half from Leicester, the players routinely take the field believing they will out-last the opposition. "When you feel the other side cracking and see their players looking for a rest, the momentum swings behind you," he said, reflecting on the run of recent victories, including the important 10-point win over France at the weekend.

"We feel a lot of teams will blow out, so we look to maintain a high tempo. When you see your opponents sucking in air, it gives you a huge psychological boost.

"We train differently with England than I do at Leicester. The sessions at the club tend to be longer. Here, it's shorter and more intense, although I feel I probably run just as far. There's all sorts of data being fed to us – a lot of GPS stuff. Not that I understand all the scientific detail. That's left to the 'brains' in the conditioning team, the people who know what they're doing."

One of those "brains" is Matt Parker, the head of athletic performance who joined the red-rose set-up from Dave Brailsford's state-of-the-art British cycling team at the end of last year. Youngs did not feel at liberty to disclose precisely what Parker has brought to the mix as a master of "marginal gains" – when the half-back said it was "top secret", he was only half joking – but he readily acknowledged that the newcomer had made an immediate impact with his grasp of boundary-pushing training techniques.

"In this England group, you either move forward with everyone else or you get left behind," Youngs continued. "This is the most exciting time since I've been involved – the time in which I've learnt the most and been pushed the furthest. We've established the right culture now and it will continue to develop. It will continue to be handed down to those who come in behind us."

One of the forwards who shone most brightly against the French, the Northampton back-rower Tom Wood, pointed to a second reason for England's long run of grandstand finishes: the strength of the replacements' bench. "When we play at a high tempo early in a game in an effort to stretch the opposition, we do it in the knowledge that we can afford to go flat-out because the cavalry are there, waiting to get involved," he said.

Wood also stressed the importance of the fitness premium. "One of the things that really pleased me against France was that I came off the field feeling there was more in the tank. I could have gone longer if necessary. That was a real Test match – they picked a very powerful side, full of big ball-carriers – but we were prepared to go through a lot of phases early in the game knowing we'd be running into brick walls, because we also knew the gaps would appear in the later stages."

The fact that Wood could last the 80 minutes as well as anyone on the field underlined the effectiveness of England's conditioning programme, for he is still troubled by the chronic foot injury that incapacitated him for the majority of 2012. He now plays his rugby in custom-built, inflexible boots that are two sizes too small for him. The latest offerings, manufactured in Italy, also happen to be bright orange. "I've had a reaction in training," he confessed. "I'll have to spray-paint them before the next game." A game that just happens to be against the Italians.

The England players were speaking at an event for QBE, the business insurance specialist and official insurance partner of England rugby. For exclusive videos from this event, visit: qberugby.com

Healy reprieve for Six Nations

Ireland prop Cian Healy will be available for the Six Nations match against France on 9 March following a successful appeal against the conditions of his three-week ban for stamping on England's Dan Cole. It was originally spread over four weekends, but Healy argued that this was not allowed under the regulations. His suspension will now finish on 3 March.

Scotland centre Nick De Luca has been given a 13-week ban for a tip tackle he committed in Edinburgh's 24-7 loss to Ospreys on Friday. He will not play again this season with the suspension to conclude on 26 May, unless he appeals successfully.

Suggested Topics
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Harry Redknapp. Mark Hughes and Ryan Shawcross
footballNews and updates as Queens Park Rangers host the Potters
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
New Articles
i100... with this review
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
New Articles
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam