Eddie Jones said he was disappointed that England’s world record-equalling unbeaten run had come to an end in Dublin but insisted his team would be better for the experience, adding it was better to taste defeat now than in the World Cup final in two years’ time.
“We’re better off having that experience today than we are in Yokohama stadium on Nov 2 at 8pm [in 2019],” Jones said after seeing his team’s hopes of landing successive Grand Slams ended by an inspired Ireland team who ran out 13-9 winners. “We are 14 months into a four-year project. We have been chuffed with the results we have had but realism tells us we have still got a lot to do.
“We were caught in certain areas today and full credit to Ireland. There are brilliantly coached and they executed their plans well.
“We will learn from it. We are going to have more setbacks as we go to the World Cup. How many teams have a 90 per cent winning record at Test level? There are not too many. The All Blacks are the only ones and we have been doing that since the last World Cup.
“We are batting at a pretty good average – even [the Australian cricketer] Don Bradman got zero when he played his last Test. Obviously we are disappointed – but we will fight another day. It is not the end of the world.”
Asked whether there was any sense of relief that the record would no longer be the focus of so much attention, and England could get back to building again without that additional pressure, Jones shook his head.
“It’s fantastic having pressure,” he said. “Again, when you get to a World Cup you’ve got to win seven games in a row. You’ve got to be able to cope with that pressure and expectation. That was a like a World Cup final today and we weren’t good enough.”
Jones said he thought England would go on to win after regaining an element of control in the second half – having conceded over 70 per cent possession in the first – but ultimately they just weren’t good enough.
“I thought our effort today was good – I thought Ireland played superbly. I thought we had them after half-time, they started to kick indiscriminately and we got some back-to-back positions. In the first half we couldn’t get our hands on the ball and when we did we gave it back to them. The players handled it really well – they were just too good for us today it happens sometimes.”
In particular, Jones said, young players like Maro Itoje would learn a lot from the defeat. “He is only 22,” he pointed out. “He is still studying at university. He is doing an essay this week on socio-economic status of Ghana or someone like that. I couldn’t understand what he was talking about!
“That was the first time [this Six Nations] he has called line-outs at Test level. He had a hard day today and he will learn a lot from that.
“It’s been a great learning experience for him. Really beneficial because George Kruis is an excellent line-out caller. To have him not in the side is difficult for us. So, Maro’s now come through and he’s the guy that we can call on to call the line-outs.”
A conspiracy theory emerged later that the late withdrawl of Ireland vice-captain Jamie Heaslip might have been pre-planned rather than the result of a hamstring injury in the warm-up, as claimed. Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt described the rumour as insulting. “It’s probably a bit of a slight,” he said. “It’s not something that we do. We pick our team and go out and play. It was a disruption if anything for us.”
Jones said he was not bothered. “I don’t really care mate,” he smiled. “We’ve got to play against the 15 that’s out on the field. If they want to do [tactical games] that then that’s fair enough. Maybe a leprachaun tackled him the warm-up.... Ultimately we just weren’t good enough.”