England struggle to hide disappointment with Grand Slam failure but won't let it reduce title celebrations
England were happy to celebrate winning a second consecutive Six Nations title despite letting the grand Slam slip through their grasp.
England have been here before. Six years ago, they were left to lift the Six Nations trophy after failing to win the Grand Slam in defeat by Ireland. As Dylan Hartley hoisted the trophy into the air on Saturday night, the sense of déjà vu was obvious and yet the faces of those on the podium did not reflect a team disconsolate with themselves.
They made a point to enjoy their success, praise the fact that it took a phenomenal Irish performance to end the 18-match unbeaten streak and try to put on a brave face. It worked, to a degree, but some were able to hide it better than others.
Take Danny Care, the scrum-half who was spraying champagne on his teammates, or even Hartley himself, who was wearing a proud smile and determined to enjoy himself up there. But there was one person who couldn't hide the disappointment, the ultra-competitive James Haskell, who couldn't get past the Grand Slam failure after losing by just four points in Dublin. "It's a difficult one. Everyone asks you: how you feel?" Haskell said after the 13-9 loss.”
"Personally I am a very competitive person, I hate losing, I don't like celebrating any loss. "But at the end of the day, this team has come a long, long way, we worked so hard, eight weeks of unbelievable training, we still won the Six Nations back to back, we fell short today but everyone has sweated, bled to get to this point.”
"You've got to take the positives. It tell you: look back at 2011, we won a Six Nations, we were all upset about it afterwards, but when I hang by boots up, I'm still going to count it as a win because we won. That's what ultimately matters."
The fact that the loss, the first of the Eddie Jones era, came after a record 18 consecutive victories to tie New Zealand's benchmark, made the defeat that little bit easier to deal with.
There is also the rapidly approaching Rugby World Cup, which almost reduced the importance of the Grand Slam in the eyes of Jones and his squad. With the draw for the tournament in May, Jones stressed after the match that this first loss has come 14 months into his four-year plan to win the World Cup, and the players echoed his belief that this setback can be an important lesson in the development of this England side.
"You can't win everything in rugby, you can't win forever," Haskell added. "No side in the world has done that, not even all 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?'