Ben Youngs laid bare his devastation after England were ripped to shreds in front of watching Lions boss Warren Gatland.
An abject display saw Eddie Jones’ World Cup finalists thrashed inside an hour by an Ireland side breezing to victory with just 13 men.
It left Youngs to reflect on England’s worst ever Six Nations, their most points conceded in a campaign and a first Triple Crown of defeats against Scotland, Wales and Ireland since 1976.
“Any loss is hard to take but when you gift them such a leg-up it’s really hard,” said England’s centurion scrum-half.
“No one wants to perform bigger than us. We’re not there to just trot about on a Saturday, we’re there to perform and put it all out there.
“So of course it’s disappointing. It’s our living, you know? Every day we wake up and go through everything to be as good as we can be."
In December Jones spoke of England contributing 20 players to the Lions tour. They will now do well to get half that number.
“We just haven’t been consistent enough," conceded Youngs. "It’s not through lack of effort, but it’s not been channelled in the right way at times.”
Seven days after beating France in thrilling fashion, England reverted to the shambles of Cardiff and the Calcutta Cup.
Sixteen months on from reaching a World Cup final they slumped to a fifth placed finish ahead of only Italy.
It’s too easy to blame the eve-of-game disruption of losing fullback Max Malins to injury and having to rip up the plan of playing Elliot Day at centre.
It was of course a setback but that can’t be used as mitigation for England being so utterly outplayed and bereft of ideas.
The memory of France was gone even before Ireland scored their two brilliant first half tries.
Blown away as man-of-the-match Robbie Henshaw bullied the visitors singlehandedly in the opening quarter with choke tackles and turnover penalties.
England couldn’t live with Ireland’s accuracy, the variety of their attack, the dominance of their collisions, their sheer understanding of what they wanted to do.
Jones’ team lacked the sort of awareness Ireland showed when Rob Herring and Jack Conan combined at a lineout to send Keith Earls to the try line through a flatfooted England defence.
Although Owen Farrell responded by reaching 500 points in Six Nations rugby, Ireland rendered that personal milestone irrelevant as they worked England one way then the other for Conan to finish a superb move.
England had no answer. Daly tried his damnedest to make something happen and Tom Curry worked himself to the bone.
But these were solo acts. The collective effort was clueless; aimless kicks and dead-end runs, almost always behind the gainline.
With an hour gone the game was long lost. Ireland led 26-6 and could afford to lose two players to cards and still cruise home.
Bundee Aki saw red for a shot to Billy Vunipola’s head on 64 minutes, then Conor Murray picked up a yellow.
It allowed England the space to grab late tries through Youngs and Jonny May.
That might have taken some of the sting out of the scoreboard but nobody was fooled. Least of all Gatland.
ENGLAND – Tries: Youngs, May. Con: Daly. Pens: Farrell 2.
IRELAND – Tries: Earls, Conan. Cons: Sexton 2. Pens: Sexton 6.
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