The English media heralded a heroic defeat across their sports pages on Sunday, following Ireland's 32-15 victory at Twickenham. Expectations over the water appear to have dropped dramatically after five defeats in their last nine Six Nations matches - the latest of which a record Irish win on English soil.
“England pride restored despite defeat” was the Sunday Telegraph’s take as they took a very optimistic view with their match report headline. As for their back page they went with, “Inspired . . . but beaten again.”
The headline on The Mail on Sunday's lead rugby piece reads: "No points for heroic failure," while former World Cup winning head coach Clive Woodward's column alongside it reads, "We found our spirit and that's a reason to smile".
Woodward believes the result was not a fair reflection of Saturday's contest: "Down to 14 men after a minute, they reacted with their best performance of this year's Six Nations and if ever a scoreline did a side scant justice, this was it. They hit a wall of fatigue in the last 10 minutes and Ireland are too good a side not to take advantage of that and close out the win, but there were glimpses of a brighter future for England."
He continued . . . “I’m not a big fan of smiling through defeat but this was a defeat that left me more positive and upbeat about England than in a good while. I’m intrigued to see how they go in Paris.”
In Oliver Holt’s match report he begins with lots of English pride: “There were times at Twickenham, amid the magnificent din and the heroic efforts of an outnumbered team, when it seemed as if England were going to pull off one of the greatest victories in the history of the Six Nations.”
‘In considerable jeopardy’
But goes on to question the future of head coach Eddie Jones if his team lose again against France . . .
“The truth is, it is an embarrassment. It is not even as if England would be able to point to any progress. Because even if they pull a result out of the fire at the Stade de France, there will be no Grand Slam this season, no Triple Crown, no title.
“For the first time in 10 years, England ran out as underdogs in the betting for a Six Nations match at Twickenham. And the bookmakers were right. It does not matter how they took their money because the points on the scoreboard do not lie. England found a way to lose.”
It may just go down as one of the great defeats"
In The Sunday Telegraph, Daniel Schofield's match report ends with the line "To Ireland the spoils, to England the succour." And while he praises the English effort in the circumstances, he has no argument with the referee's early red card call - unlike the majority of the Twickenham crowd on Saturday.
In his column, former referee Nigel Owens goes a step further: "People really need to stop questioning referees now or saying the red card spoils the game - it didn't spoil the game at all. They need to start thinking you can't go in upright making a tackle. If you get it wrong, you will get sent off, but worse than that you could injure an opponent who has to leave the field of play."
In the same pages former coach Ian McGeechan was also impressed with England, but he had plenty of praise for the winning Irish team too: “If we learnt much about England, this match also confirmed what we suspected about Andy Farrell’s Ireland. In short, they are a really impressive team who are among the very best in the world at the moment.
“Although they bent under the ceaseless pressure of the English onslaught, they didn’t break. That tells you all you need to know about their quality as players but also their character.”
In The Observer, Andy Bull follows a similar narrative of heroic defeat - "So it wasn't one of the great victories. But it may just go down as one of the great defeats."
Gerard Meagher's player ratings sees nines go the way of Maro Itoje and Ellis Genge, who he writes, "had Furlong on toast at scrum time, which is not bad for someone who supposedly has wobbles there, and ran and tackled himself to standstill."
The final words then to Andy Bull - who like many of the English reporters, still has an eye on next year’s World Cup: “A week, a month, a year from now, long after the final scoreline has been forgotten, this may well be a game they look back on as a turning point in their development.”
So from talk of heroism, to embarrassment, to Eddie Jones getting the sack, to England winning the World Cup - the English sports pages are never dull after an international match and today is no different.