Eddie Jones was at a loss to explain why his England side came up short in the Rugby World Cup final, having found themselves completely overpowered by a formidable Springboks side.
South Africa clinched their third World Cup triumph to regain the crown as world champions for the first time in 12 years, but unlike that 2007 final England went into this game as favourites, leaving Jones unable to explain why his side were so off the pace compared to last weekend’s victory over New Zealand.
"That wasn’t the outcome we expected,” the England coach said. “South Africa were worthy winners, they played very well. They were too good for us on the day and unfortunately, we couldn’t get into the game. And when we had opportunities, we didn’t take them.
"It was just one of the days where South Africa were too good for us, so they’re worthy winners.
“We got in trouble at the scrum. We struggled, particularly in the first half. We made some personnel changes in the second half and got back into it, but again 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."
England suffered a blow inside three minutes when Kyle Sinckler was forced off with concussion, with the prop on the end of a sickening collision with Maro Itoje and Makazole Mapimpi that left him unconscious.
But Jones believes that the loss of such an important player – and the requirement for Dan Cole to play the 78 remaining minutes against a Springbok scrum that was earning a phenomenal level of joy at the set-piece – was not the reason why England lost.
"He’s recovering,” said Jones. ”He’s going through all the head injury protocols. But it’s part of the game. You have 23 guys, you lose a guy early, you’ve got to be able to cover it. I don’t think that was a significant factor in the game.
“You have to be able to break game open a bit, stay in the fight and then be able to break game open. We stayed in fight well and 50 minutes in we were in with a chance. But we didn’t take our chances today and they took their opportunities and that was the difference in the game.”
George Ford reacts to England's Rugby World Cup final loss to South Africa
After the way England brushed aside the All Blacks in dominant fashion last weekend, Jones’s unchanged team went into the final as favourites – a tag they have not held since the 2003 final. But Jones did ponder whether, like Warren Gatland had suggested, England delivered their final-winning performance a game too early.
"That could be a factor, I’m not sure,” he added. “I don’t know why we didn’t play well today and this is one of the things that happens in high-level rugby. We thought our preparation this week was good but in the end, it wasn’t because we didn’t play well.
"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. We’re going to be kicking stones now for four years and it’s hard to kick stones for four years.”
Jones does not believe the loss of Sinckler had a major impact (AP)
But the Australian, who has now lost two World Cup finals as head coach to add to his 2007 triumph as a consultant for the Springboks, was keen to praise what this England squad have achieved given where they were four years ago in exiting the World Cup in the pool stage.
"We’re massively disappointed but at the same time I’ve got great admiration for what the players did,” Jones said. “I can’t tell you how much respect I’ve got for them, how hard they’ve worked, how well they’ve played but we came short today. But it’s not because of lack of effort.
“We’re the second-best team in the world. We didn’t meet our goal, because our goal was to be the best team in the world, and we’re the second-best team in the world. So that’s how we should be remembered.
"I think the players prepared tremendously well for this World Cup and played with a lot of pride, passion and we got caught short today. These things happen. But you can’t doubt the effort of the players. I thought they were extraordinary. Why we came up short today I’m not sure and sometimes you never know.
"The only thing I’m worried about now is having a few beers. And after we have a few beers today we’ll probably have a few more beers tomorrow. And then probably Monday. And then maybe we have to pull up stumps."
Jones has now lost two World Cup finals as a head coach (Getty)
He added on the World Cup as a whole: "It was a great World Cup. We feel humbled to be part of it and we’re disappointed we’re not the world’s best team. We finished second. The silver medal is not as good as the gold medal, but it’s a silver medal and I’m proud of my players.
"I’m proud of the way they’ve conducted themselves in Japan. They’ve been great ambassadors for English rugby and for the sport of rugby. The game of rugby has grown over this tournament. We now have another serious rugby nation and I’m sure Japan will push that influence into Asia so the game’s growing.
"There have been great competitive matches, well refereed, well administered, well organised. It’s been a tremendous tournament and Japan should be so proud of what they’ve done for rugby and for the country. We’re just disappointed we didn’t get the money today, mate. But there’s always another day."