England would now approach potential autumn clash with New Zealand with greater degree of realism about how good they are

Paul Hayward
The Telegraph
England struggled to find a way past an energetic and determined Ireland outfit - Copyright (c) 2017 Rex Features. No use without permission.
England struggled to find a way past an energetic and determined Ireland outfit - Copyright (c) 2017 Rex Features. No use without permission.

The “useful defeat” is a taboo in professional sport. Everyone knows it exists, but there is a reluctance to embrace it, for fear that coaches and players are seen to be spinning PR guff or accepting a loss too easily.

There was, though, an almost universal acceptance in Dublin at the weekend that England may ultimately benefit from having the runaway train of their 18 wins derailed in a hostile city by a magnificently eager Ireland team.

Or, as Joe Launchbury put it: “Losses don’t always have to be the end of the world.”

The hype around a north-south unification bout between England and New Zealand was starting to make boxing appear shy about promoting showdowns.

That autumn international would still be worth seeing, but England would approach it now with a greater degree of realism about how good they are.

Ireland vs England player ratings

Veterans of the 2003 World Cup team made two mental notes. One was surprise at how England failed to cope with Ireland’s intensity and the fervour of the crowd. The other was that they might benefit from falling off the carousel of unbeaten runs and Grand Slams. 

Everyone in rugby now accepts that World Cups are the one true measure of greatness, and Eddie Jones, the England head coach, has always said his work is geared towards the final in Japan 2½ years from now.

Jones also admits he failed to prepare England well enough for the “conditions” in Dublin (cold, and wet). So, for the first time, the players know they cannot expect their leader to solve all their problems. The ferocity of Ireland’s game came as a shock and the supposedly invincible Six Nations champions simply could not deal with.

“It’s amazing how emotionally charged Ireland were,” said Billy Vunipola.

<span>England lifted the Championship trophy but were denied the grand slam</span>
England lifted the Championship trophy but were denied the grand slam

“We’ve got to learn now that if we ever find ourselves in that situation, we have to negate that, we have to take the crowd out of the game. I thought the crowd were amazing, but again it just comes down to something we could have done better.”

England are in good company. This is the second time in four months Ireland have halted an 18-match winning streak. First New Zealand in Chicago, now England in Dublin. Any side lording it in the history books should beware those men in green.

On the medal podium, England at first seemed unsure whether to celebrate their second consecutive Six Nations title or mourn their failed world record attempt. By the time they came in to speak to reporters, they had decided to frame a loss as “learning” – a word they used repeatedly.

The captain Dylan Hartley –taken off early again – was the first off the mark. “It’s a reality check,” he said. “We’ve got to take the positives from it, and how I see that is that we are not the finished article. There will be lessons to be learned from this game. It will keep us focused and working hard to improve.”

Most consecutive Test wins for a Tier One nation

Then came Jones, who said: “We’re better off having that experience today than we are in Yokohama Stadium on Nov 2 [2019] at 8pm.” This is the date and time of the next World Cup final, which he recites so often.

None of this is unreasonable. As James Haskell said: “You can’t win everything in rugby, you can’t win forever. No side in the world has done that, not even the All Blacks. You have days like this. If you’ve got a long-term project, which Eddie and his coaching staff do for 2019, on days like this you learn. You can always look back at it and say, ‘Do you know what, we were in turmoil, we had this situation, we had the pressure, what can we do to turn it?’ Because all the messages on the field were great, the tactics were great, everyone was saying the right thing. But we’d go a couple of good positives and then – indiscipline, penalty and you’re back in your own half.”

Rugby Table

Launchbury chipped in: “Eddie has been very sensible around what it is.

“He takes it for what it is. He doesn’t need to tell us to be disappointed about the result today but he hit home with us, him and Dylan, about what we have achieved over the last 12 months. 

“But we also know we are still quite early on in our journey. It’s been 12 months since Eddie has been here and hopefully in 12 months’ time you are going to see a different side, probably a more accomplished side, and that is what we are building towards.”

Three days ago, talk of a one-off England-New Zealand “decider” 

(it was never that) was an impresario’s dream. In Dublin, Haskell was asked what he thought of it. He said: “Let’s just worry about playing Worcester next week with Wasps.”

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