This time, mercifully, there is no need for a witch hunt. All the indications are that there won’t be regime change. But there must be probing questions about what went wrong for England.
They started the World Cup final as favourites but somehow, a very good team played very badly when it mattered most. Somehow, the side who dismantled the All Blacks were themselves dismantled by South Africa.
Or, to put it another way, they were Beasted as the Springboks’ iconic prop, Tendai Mtawarira, led a scrum rout which was the foundation of this result.
England were beaten at the set piece by a powerful South African pack in the World Cup final
Veteran prop Tendai Mtawarira delivered an astonishing performance for the Springboks
The winning margin was emphatic and in no way was it a distortion. England’s team bus arrived late at the stadium after being stuck in match-day traffic — a logistical howler that should never have happened — but the team didn’t turn up at all.
Six days earlier, out-going Wales coach Warren Gatland had queried whether Eddie Jones’ players could scale another peak after the effort it took to overwhelm New Zealand.
He suggested that England might have played their final a week early and despite a stinging riposte from Jones, the Kiwi might have had a point.
There was no repeat of the near-perfection which accounted for the champions. In fact, there was nothing even adequate before half-time. They briefly threatened a revival after the break but the resistance was fleeting.
Eddie Jones has ensured that England deserve to leave Japan with their honour intact
But despite Saturday’s demise, England deserve to leave Japan with honour. They produced a fine campaign until the last weekend. Many of their players could not bring themselves to keep the silver medals they were awarded around their necks, but in time they will reflect and gain perspective.
This sort of sporting near-miss is horribly cruel and difficult to take, but it is better than being nowhere near the summit. It was not success but this was not failure either.
Of course, Jones had set his stall out to seize the Webb Ellis Cup at this tournament, but he couldn’t exactly set the bar lower than that — and every leading team has the same objective. The staggering victory over the All Blacks provided a boost to the domestic game. It captured attention. It will surely trigger a surge in participation and attendances.
The English public will be engaged again, so it wasn’t all for nothing. Their team were seeking to complete a southern eclipse by following wins over Argentina, Australia and New Zealand with one over the Springboks. They couldn’t manage it, but the response on the whole was one of shock and despondency rather than damnation.
What this final did was provide compelling proof that Test rugby is not just a scientific equation, even in these days of GPS data, endless performance statistics and minute analysis. It is a sport still founded on emotion, spirit and sheer collective will.
There are primal forces at work beneath the surface, especially for a South Africa team driven to act as a unifying symbol of hope for their troubled country. They had so much more than a mere trophy to play for, and it showed.
When it came to the crunch, powerful social factors on one side trumped vast resources on the other. England lost Kyle Sinckler early and they soon lost their heads too. There were so many errors as they threw wild passes and kept trying to force the game open in the face of suffocating pressure.
South Africa accumulated six scrum penalties that helped them secure a huge victory
There were six scrum penalties to the Boks. One of those decisions given by French referee Jerome Garces was debatable but all the others were justified.
The Beast and the rest of Rassie Erasmus’ two front-five units — so cleverly rotated — took England to the cleaners in the set-piece. There was one penalty the other way after Joe Marler came on but it was in this area that the campaign was fatally undermined.
Jones and his squad will fly home on Monday with no parades or prizes waiting for them, but with ample scope for optimism based on the age-profile of those involved here. At 28, Owen Farrell has another World Cup in him whether or not he continues as captain.
Tom Curry and Sam Underhill emerged as the team’s talismans over the past two months and the ‘Kamikaze Kids’ in the back row are 21 and 23 respectively. Maro Itoje was another leading performer and is only 25.
Wlile losing Kyle Sinckler to injury was a blow, at 26 he is only just reaching his career peak
Sinckler, 26, is another still rising towards a career peak. The Vunipola brothers have years left in them, although Manu Tuilagi has spoken of this as his last World Cup and Dan Cole is unlikely to feature again.
Only time will tell if Jones will stay on for another four years but the RFU certainly want him to. He is already plotting a revamp of his coaching team as Steve Borthwick and Neal Hatley are poised to return to the club game.
Jones and John Mitchell are contracted for another two years and the Antipodean double-act must soon set about tackling some priority areas. England need to focus on succession planning at scrum-half and adding depth at tighthead and at No 8.
What the Springboks achieved here suggests that there doesn’t have to be a slavish devotion to the notion of four-year cycles. South Africa were in crisis not so long ago, now they are world champions.
England have the capability to dominate in Europe, so they should make that a primary objective. Winning Grand Slams is not the same as winning World Cups, but they have value and resonance.
There will also be a Lions tour to South Africa, in 2021 and many of these England players will be selected. By the time of that crusade, they will have come to terms with what happened in Yokohama, when they finished with the honour of silver, but were denied the glory of gold.