Eddie Jones had one simple message for his England team: “Be proud of yourselves boys.”
The head coach had just suffered his first defeat as England boss, 15 months after he took the job following the dismal 2015 Rugby World Cup showing. What followed was an 18-match winning streak, two Six Nations titles and, just, one Grand Slam, having seen the other slip away but an agonising five points.
But as it was, Jones had to field questions of what could have been following a 13-9 defeat in Dublin that echoed similar Six Nations final-weekend losses here in the Irish capital in 2001 and 2011. Yet he was quick to praise his side, both for their efforts on the day and their performances during the world record-equalling run that sees them well on course to meet Jones’s plan to win the next World Cup.
“We are Six Nations champions, back-to-back which is a fantastic achievement,” he said. “We’re joint world record holders, but we weren’t good enough today. And we have to accept we weren’t good enough today. Next time we get together as the full squad will be in November and we’ll look to right what happened today.”
He added: “We are 14 months into a four-year project as I have been saying. 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 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.”
Jones also addressed the alarming failure of the English lineout. The visitors, whether through tactical plan or reaction, chose not to compete in the air on Ireland’s throw, giving them clean, uncontested ball to attack with and reap the rewards. When Ireland kicked a penalty to touch instead of at posts, England chose not to compete in the air, and promptly found themselves under the posts following Iain Henderson’s decisive try.
England had a similar chance late on, with Owen Farrell turning down a kick to touch in the 73rd minute to go for touch. Up popped the Irish jumpers, and England lost the ball – and subsequently the match – by winning the battle in the air.
“That was pretty big. We will learn from that,” Jones said, before turning his attention to the lineout leader Maro Itoje. “We have got a young guy who is only 22, 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.”
Itoje has had to take on the leadership role in the absence of his Saracens teammate, George Kruis, but Jones was not going to throw him to the wolves. “He had a hard day today and he will learn a lot from that. It is like being a tight-head prop, you learn a lot from failure and he will learn a lot from that today. These things sometimes help you in the long run.”
And rather than criticise his own players as you might imagine Jones would do in the hope of getting a reaction, the Australian wanted to stress just how good Ireland were on Saturday evening.
“I thought our effort today was good – I thought Ireland played superbly,” Jones added. “Ireland played really well – 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. We will be better for that. I am happy with their performance.”