Eddie Jones admitted England needed “Fergie time” to ensure their World Cup title quest began with a bonus-point victory over Tonga.
It took until the 77th minute to deliver the fourth try through Luke Cowan-Dickie that sealed a 35-3 win at the Sapporo Dome, but a laboured performance left plenty of areas for improvement.
Sir Alex Ferguson visited the squad in Bristol during the summer and Jones referred to the former Manchester United manager’s ability to inspire late goals from his players to illustrate England’s ability to claim the prize they sought.
“During the lead-up to the World Cup we had a number of coaches and specialists in. One person we were lucky enough to have in was Sir Alex Ferguson,” Jones said.
“One of the things his teams were renowned for was… what do they call it? Fergie time. Fergie time!
“And the message was be patient and that’s what I enjoyed about our team – there was no sign of panic and they kept on playing good rugby and the try came.
“It might have been easier if it had come a little bit earlier, but it came and that’s a good sign.”
Maro Itoje revealed that Ferguson explained the philosophy behind ‘Fergie time’ to England’s players.
“It was very cool. Sometimes when you hear of and see figures when you are growing up, they almost don’t feel real,” Itoje said.
“Eddie didn’t tell us when he was coming in. So he walked into the room and everyone almost swallowed some spit. It was, ‘It’s actually him’.
“Just being able to meet him and talk to him – the stories we heard were amazing. I think we took a lot out of it.
“On Fergie time, Sir Alex said: ‘Don’t shoot. When the pressure’s on, don’t shoot, you’ll find a way to get into a better scoring position’.
“He didn’t like guys shooting outside the box when the pressure is on. I think we can take a lot out of that.
“When the pressure is on, it’s not about the elaborate play, it’s not about the 50-50, it’s about doing the right thing.”
Jones put a positive spin on England’s struggle to dispatch opponents ranked 15th in the world and who operate on a fraction of the resources, leading to their top stars being lured away by richer nations and European clubs.
Had it not been for their centre of Samoan heritage Manu Tuilagi, who crossed twice, they might have been in trouble.
“We’re really pleased. We came here to get five points and we got five points. We’ve got no injuries and we know we can play better,” Jones said.
“Sometimes rugby is like that and the ball just doesn’t stick. We left a number of points out there. But I’m so pleased with the attitude of the players.
“That’s two Tests in a row that we haven’t conceded a try. We know we can be better and that’s the goal for the USA game (on Thursday).
“The stadium was unbelievable. What a great thing for rugby. We’re up in Hokkaido, closer to Russia that you probably want to be.
“You have Tonga, a country of 100,000 people battling their heart out, playing tough.”
Tuilagi indicated that he will be England’s greatest asset at this World Cup with a powerful display that scattered Tongan tacklers time and again, putting more distance between himself and years of injury hell.
“Manu’s increasingly getting close to his best. He’s training well and is in great physical nick. He enjoys being around the boys,” Jones said.
“The boys love playing with him and for a Samoan to play against Tongan it’s a pretty special occasion. Manu will only get better as the tournament goes on.”
Tonga captain Siale Piutau started opposite Tuilagi and acknowledged that his strength was too much to handle.
“Manu was instrumental for them. We knew they’d go to him for their go forward and he did that,” Piutau said.
“We tried to contain him but when you have someone of Manu’s talent that gives you gainline, it helps get your forwards into the game.”