Six Nations Ireland 24 - 8 England: The Loveliest Way To Lose

So England's Grand Slam dream was shattered by a marauding Ireland. But it could have been worse. Much worse.
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Well done, England. If you're going to lose that's the way to do it. Don't allow the cup to be dashed from your lips with but minutes to go. Much better to be out of the picture within minutes of the second half starting. Losing at the death leaves the sort of wounds that take eons to heal – just ask any Australian. But being stuffed long before the final whistle blows allows you to deal with the humiliation there and then. Heck, by the time proceedings came to a close at the Aviva Stadium (smashing ground, awful name), I'd not only had a good half-an-hour to concentrate on my drinking but I'd even been able to ask my fiancée how the baking was going.

Of course, if you've been following English rugby since the late '70s, losing isn't a new experience. And while it was a happy hunting ground for the Carling generation, winning in Ireland’s become as easy as selling an Xbox to the Amish. If yesterday was particularly disappointing it was because the team's recent heroics had enabled us to dream a little. Worse still, it was those who'd done so much to suggest there might be something special about this side - Youngs, Flood - who couldn't have been more abject when things couldn't have mattered more.

Being stuffed long before the final whistle blows allows you to deal with the humiliation there and then.

Still, you can't take it away from Ireland. For years, the Marauder tribes held sway across the 31 counties, and on the rugby field, Ireland remain at their best when they summon a similar spirit. And as for Brian O'Driscoll breaking the 5/6 Nations try record, it couldn't happen to a nicer (or more short-sighted) player.

While the home side rejoiced at the result, it was easy to spot the relief behind the smiles. If England's tournament was largely one of promise, theirs was one of huge disappointment. And while Ronan O'Gara cheekily winked after he got away with clobbering Chris Ashton, you didn't have to be English to remember the debt that eejit owes to British rugby. The man who coughed up the second Lions test in South Africa, O'Gara's other great claim to fame is having the tar kicked out of him by Duncan McRae, a man so small even Dudley Moore would have called him minute. So, well done, Rog. Your team came third.

Not that winning the Six Nations will delight either England or their supporters. Worse still, there's a real sense that after years of providing strong opposition to the Southern Hemisphere, France and the Home Unions now find themselves back where they were the year the first Rugby World Cup was held. In 1987, while we were busy beating one another in Europe, the All Blacks established themselves as an indomitable force, some 20 points better than their nearest rivals. In 2011, the situation seems much the same. An autumn of agony in New Zealand awaits. Let's just hope things aren't too drawn out and we're given ample time to drown our sorrows.

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