Sweet chariot derailed as England endured nightmare Rugby World Cup
England's worst nightmare came to pass as they crashed out of the World Cup with defeats to Wales and Australia which ushered in the darkest hour in the nation's rugby history.
The mitigation of being drawn in the most demanding group the tournament has ever witnessed fails to excuse the true extent of a disaster that will surely result in the demise of the coaching team led by Stuart Lancaster.
When victory over Australia was needed to reach the knockout phase, England were instead routed 33-13 and the Rugby Football Union's review of the fiasco has already begun.
The statistics are damning - their biggest defeat in the fixture at Twickenham, their fourth highest losing margin ever at a ground being hailed as a fortress and a World Cup that lasted a mere 16 days.
Furthermore, it was the first time England had failed to reach the knockout phase and the worst performance by a host nation in eight instalments of the global showpiece.
Adding perspective is that Lancaster presided over the best-prepared Red Rose squad of all time, funded by a 'no expense spared' philosophy from the RFU, which most now adopt the same approach to assembling a high-calibre coaching team to replace the existing quartet of Lancaster, Andy Farrell, Graham Rowntree and Mike Catt.
A bonus-point victory over Fiji was a promising enough start, but it was during the following week that the chariot began careering off the rails in such alarming fashion.
The catalyst was the chest injury that ruled Jonathan Joseph out of the pivotal clash with Wales, but rather than bringing in Henry Slade at outside centre - the Exeter playmaker was inexplicably never under consideration - a radical overhaul of the midfield was undertaken.
Out went fly-half George Ford and with him the exuberant attacking gameplan that had served Lancaster well over the past 12 months, in came Owen Farrell and Sam Burgess as rapiers were replaced by broadswords.
Selection had grown increasingly erratic over the previous 18 months and this midfield surgery was the most dramatic twist yet, exposing a loss of nerve as judgement day loomed. Guile was sacrificed at the altar of power, but still England imploded.
Captain Chris Robshaw has been forced to shoulder much of the blame for his decision-making late in the 28-25 defeat to Warren Gatland's men, but it was a collective lack of leadership in the final quarter that nudged the hosts to the edge of the abyss.
By the time Australia arrived at Twickenham one week later, confidence was shot to bits and England duly collapsed against a team they had overrun at the same venue 11 months previously.
The climax to Pool A against Uruguay in Manchester should have seen the hosts swagger into the quarter-finals in pursuit of the Webb Ellis Cup.
Instead, they departed with a whimper as the rest of the world enjoyed an event being hailed as the best yet.