Eddie Jones believes at least 15 of his players should be named in the Lions squad for the summer tour to New Zealand and is pressing Twickenham to arrange a match against the All Blacks. The England coach is unconcerned that the end of his side’s 18-match winning run, against Ireland in Dublin, will dent confidence.
It was Jones’s first defeat since taking over from Stuart Lancaster and not only did the Six Nations champions fail to beat New Zealand’s tier one record of 18 consecutive Test victories but their record run of 11 straight championship successes ended on the ground where they last lost in the championship, and where they failed in grand slam bids in 2001 and 2011.
“I told the players to be proud of themselves, champions and world record holders,” said Jones. “We were just not good enough today. When we get together again in November we have to right what happened here. We are all human and that is why records finish on 18 games: you get a team that performs above themselves and uses the conditions superbly and we were below ourselves.
“I expect at least 15 of our guys to go on tour with the Lions and will be disappointed if we do not get that many in. The Lions have a massive shout, as Ireland showed [in November]. We can’t wait to play New Zealand and I am very keen on a match this year. I have had a discussion with Ian [Ritchie, the Rugby Football Union chief executive] and if the opportunity comes, we will be raring to go. Discussions are being held with New Zealand and in England and there is a way to go.”
England’s failed to score a try for the first time since they were here two years ago and struggled throughout to get a toehold in the game. “I thought we were going to get out of it in the second half,” said Jones. “We developed some momentum, but then gave away a penalty which Ireland kicked and it became too big for us.
“You have these days and this was a tough Six Nations, harder than last year. Teams were at us and I expect it to be more difficult again next year. We have been chuffed with the results we have had, but the reality is we still have a lot to do.
“We will have more setbacks before the World Cup. Not many teams have a 90% record, but we have a pretty good average: Don Bradman had a zero in his final Test. We will fight another day – it is not the end of the world even if we are gutted.”
The Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt said England were worthy champions. “Eighteen consecutive victories is an incredible achievement,” he said. “It is hard enough to get one. England deserved the title and while we won, we were envious that it was they who had the silverware at the end of the day. They have such strength in depth with so many options as ball-carriers and playmakers. They will continue to get better, unfortunately for us.”
The Ireland captain Rory Best spoke to the referee Jérôme Garcès about some of England’s challenges on the home outside-half Johnny Sexton. Maro Itoje and Owen Farrell were penalised and warned for hits on Ireland’s 10, who was also singled out for attention in the previous two matches against Wales and France.
“It is my job as captain to make sure that our players are looked after,” said Best, a contender to lead the Lions. “It was a really tough Test match and key players like Johnny can be targeted. The referee said he was keeping an eye on it.”
Dylan Hartley lamented “negative on negative” and promised his side would learn a “big lesson” from an error-strewn England display. Hartley, Jones’s captain, said: “It was a big lesson to learn. We set out to win the tournament and we’ve done that but we’re disappointed not to win this final game. We had high hopes and high expectations of ourselves but it goes to show we’re not quite there as a team. But full credit to Ireland. They put us under unbelievable pressure and gave us one hell of a Test match.”
Hartley added: “It was negative upon negative. We seemed to back every error up with another error and it put them in good field positions. We’re not the finished article – this’ll keep us grounded. There’s plenty of work to do.”