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'Sometimes you never know': Eddie Jones baffled by England's World Cup final misfire

Eddie Jones
Eddie Jones
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

No excuses but no explanations either. England were understandably at something of a loss to offer immediate analysis of their World Cup final thumping at the hands of the Springboks.

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More so than any other in history, this has been a World Cup of peaks and troughs. Dubbed the 'most open of all time' before the competition began, so it proved with the tag of favourites switching from side to side throughout until it was South Africa left standing.

New Zealand looked an unstoppable force when dismantling Ireland in the quarter-finals but couldn't reach the same level a week later.

Even Joe Schmidt's men, No.1 in the world before things began, appeared to have peaked just in time for the tournament only to prove six days on that in actual fact they had merely hit the heights against Scotland.

So too England. One of the great semi-final performances this competition has ever known was only a precursor to finding themselves on the wrong end of perhaps the most dominant opposition showing of the nine finals.

The size of the occasion? The early injury to Kyle Sinckler? Even a late-arriving bus?

Eddie Jones, who intends to lead England into the 2020 Six Nations, was loathe to cite any as the root cause for losing a game by 20 points that they had entered as favourites. Indeed, despite all the post-mortems to follow, he said we may never know why his team failed to hit their mark in the biggest game of their lives.

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"Obviously it wasn't the outcome we expected," he said. "They were too good for us on the day. It is one of those days where they were too good for us.

"South Africa were too strong for us.

"We didn't think that was going to be the case going into the game but that's how it happened. That's what happens in rugby sometimes. Why we came up short, I'm not sure and sometimes you never know.

"You can have the most investigative debrief of your game and you still don't know what was wrong. It just happens sometimes. It's not a good day for it to happen and we're going to be kicking stones now for four years and it's hard to kick stones for four years."

Sam Underhill, the flanker who has been one of England's best performers at this tournament, was similarly flummoxed having believed his side had prepared well. The contrast between the level of success enjoyed by the likes of himself, Tom Curry and Maro Itoje from one week to the next was stark.

"The thing about the game is as soon as a game is played it's over and done with," he said. "We put in a good performance (against New Zealand) last week but as soon as that's happened it's over. You'll probably find any number of reasons.

"Things are probably easier in hindsight to figure out. The trick is trying to stay ahead of it and try to fix it when you're in it and unfortunately we weren't able to do that. Analysing it is the easy bit, being in it is the hard bit. It's a mystery.

"When somebody cracks it one day I'm sure they'll be consistent world champions."

The most dominant facet of the Springboks' game was their scrum, where 34-year-old Tendai Mtawarira rolled back the years and destroyed the English set-piece.

The early loss of Sinckler - who had to be replaced after only three minutes after a collision with team-mate Itoje - will linger as a 'what if?' for supporters of the Red Rose. Five penalties told their own story.

Replacement loose-head Joe Marler admitted that once a referee believes the opposition scrum to be in ascendancy, his mind can be tough to change.

"It is hard when the pictures have been painted," said the Harlequins man who came out of international retirement for this tournament. "Jerome (Garces) decided he was going to referee a scrum this week which is good to know.

"You'd like to think every scrum is refereed independently from the last, but that's not the reality.

"As soon as you paint a picture, or give a perception early doors, that's always in the back of the referee's mind. Fair play to the South African pack, they did a great job."

With an average age of only 27, the youngest side to ever start a World Cup final in the professional era, England will come again but that won't make the next few days sting any less.

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