RBS 6 Nations: It was there for Ireland: Rory Best
In the aftermath of Saturday's Twickenham defeat, Ulster's Rory Best revealed that Ireland had targeted a Grand Slam in the conviction that they were good enough to achieve that.
Speaking deep in the bowels of the 82,000 capacity stadium, Best said: "Grand Slams are going to get harder – everyone expects to win their home games. We fully expected and believed that we could win a Grand Slam, even though we were aware that it was going to be a very hard task."
Now that dream is over, Ireland's most capped hooker – Saturday was his 73rd international outing – is training his sights on winning the championship. With four points apiece and two rounds remaining, Ireland, England, Wales or France could now win the title.
"In terms of points difference we're still in the driver's seat, but then again every team will think they have a chance," Best admitted.
"We have a big game against Italy at home and we have to do everything to make sure we don't slip up again. It's like knock-out rugby."
Right now, it is about Ireland getting back up, dusting themselves down and putting Saturday's heartache behind them.
"We fully expected to win a Grand Slam, we were playing well," he reiterated. "We set high standards so we have to expect to be disappointed."
As a spectacle, it was a truly absorbing encounter in which both sides gave their all.
"Both teams wanted to play rugby and both teams had very good defences," Best said.
"With all the tackles (there were 247 in total) that suggested it was like an arm-wrestle, but it was a good advert for rugby – we're just disappointed to lose it."
As for why Ireland did, there too he was impressively honest in highlighting their failure to apply the coup de grace after turning a 3-0 interval deficit into a 10-3 lead in the first nine minutes of the second period.
"We had a plan at half-time and the first set-play went perfect – Jamie Heaslip put Rob Kearney through a cracking hole and we scored the try," he said. "We mauled them, we got another penalty and we got our 10 points.
"And I think from there we should really have pushed on. I think when we look back on it we missed a few opportunities in the last 10 minutes and we maybe weren't as clinical at ruck time as we like to be and we pride ourselves on (being).
"But ultimately, at sort of 50-55 minutes when we went 10-3 up we thought we had them on the ropes and we just didn't finish them off the way we would expect to.
"It's obviously very hard to take," he said. "We did talk during the week about where teams have more possession and more territory and lose games. We're disappointed possibly that in some of the 50-50 tight exchanges we didn't quite get the breaks that we maybe got in the first two games, but you also make your own luck in this game."
Gracious in defeat despite his disappointment, Best praised England's refusal to throw in the towel after Ireland's sensational 10-point start to the second period.
"There's no doubt that they're a quality side at home," he acknowledged.
"They have a lot of character; we've seen that over the last couple of years since Stuart Lancaster has come in. He's built a lot of character and a lot of belief in the squad.
"We knew that they would come back and that they'd definitely fire another shot. I think it's a little bit disappointing that we weren't able to withstand that other shot and maybe counter-strike ourselves.
"If we could have got another three points and got out to 10 points it could have been a different game with the experience we have. But at home, in front of this big crowd, you knew England were going to come back.
"We'll be disappointed. You know, when you look back at that, when we had a stranglehold on them up front, we should have been more clinical.
"We needed to counter-strike ourselves and get the lead out to 10 points. We'll be disappointed at that when we look back, the fact that we had a stranglehold on them up front.
"We had chances, we definitely had chances to score late on. But ultimately I think when we look back on it, it will be the fact that from 10-3 we didn't push on to make it even 13-3.
"Ten points at this level is a massive margin. At seven points there's still hope there that you can claw your way back into it – get a bit of luck and score. So I think that will be the disappointing thing.
"I think at times in that last 10 or 15 minutes we probably did the hard work in that we got them on the back foot but then just didn't capitalise on it.
"That's something in the last two games that we've been very good at – we've been clinical and we've been precise.
"Again it's probably a step up in intensity and the opposition we're playing but at the same time, you know, we fully expected to win this and we'll be disappointed that.
"We stepped up but we didn't step up enough."