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Dejected but not disheartened, thousands of England fans arrived at Haneda International Airport in Tokyo ready to fly home, the red rose still proudly displayed on their chest. The harrowing events of Saturday night were partially forgotten on the streets of Ginza or Shinjuku or wherever they could find a watering hole open into the early hours, but the disappointment of an opportunity missed remains the overwhelming message.
Over the next few days as the head for their well-earned holidays, the England players will reflect on the events of the last four months. It feels a long time ago since they arrived for their first day in Eddie Jones’s pre-Rugby World Cup training camp, but the rollercoaster journey that they embarked on led to exactly what the England boss had promised: a chance to win the World Cup.
Only on the biggest stage with the world watching, they came up short. How short? Well that depends on how you view the 32-12 defeat – either one of the heaviest losses in World Cup final history or a scoreline inflated by two late tries when England were chasing the game.
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They will ask themselves whether they will ever get another chance to be within touching distance of the Webb Ellis Cup, and for the elder statesmen of the squad in Dan Cole, Courtney Lawes and Joe Marler, this probably was their last shot at World Cup glory.
But the vibe within the squad in the hours after the final defeat was not one of desolation or despair. It was one of disappointment, sure, but also one of pride and fulfilment at the journey they had all been on together. It would be a fair argument to say that there has never been an England camp with closer bonds than this one, with the bonds built over the last four years instrumental to rebuilding what was a broken squad.
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