Sir Clive Woodward: England's 'mystique smashed' and the 'bubble has finally burst'
England were lucky not to finish third or fourth and their mystique has been smashed, according to Rugby World Cup winning coach Sir Clive Woodward.
Ireland denied England a second consecutive Six Nations Grand Slam and halted their world record tier one test win streak at 18 - level with the All Blacks - with a 13-9 victory in Dublin last weekend.
Woodward believes England's "bubble has finally burst" after losing their first game under Eddie Jones, who took over from Stuart Lancaster after their 2015 RWC disaster when they became the first host nation to fail to make the knockout stages.
Jones took the blame for the defeat in Dublin, but Woodward, who guided England to their one World Cup victory in 2003, says losing to Ireland "was much more than a reality check".
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"The mystique which takes time to build was smashed in Dublin and Ireland won with something to spare," Woodward wrote for the Daily Mail.
"Despite the close-looking 13-9 scoreline, any other result would have been a travesty, with the England pack given a torrid evening.
"I was surprised by the superiority Ireland showed in so many aspects, despite going into the game without key players Conor Murray and Rob Kearney and losing Jamie Heaslip in the warm-up."
Woodward had high praise for Ireland, who also ended the All Blacks' world record winning streak at 18 with a 40-29 victory in Chicago last November, and hopes their defence coach, Englishman Andy Farrell, can work the "same tricks" with the Lions in New Zealand this year.
But he thinks England could have potentially finished third or fourth in the Six Nations, which they did win after hammering Scotland 61-21 at Twickenham.
Their opening two matches could have easily been defeats, though, and they needed late tries from Ben Te'o (to beat France 19-16) and Elliot Daly (to beat Wales 21-16) for victory.
"England were well beaten and bear in mind that they could easily have lost to France and Wales, too," Woodward added.
"They did very well to quarry out two wins there but the truth is that the champions might easily have finished third or fourth.
"The bubble has finally burst. The world record-equalling run is over and that is probably no bad thing because there is much work to do, as most people appreciated. Certainly Eddie has never stopped stressing that.
"After two Six Nations and a three-test series in Australia, Eddie is at the end of phase One with this England team and 18 wins out of 19 is a record nobody would have envisaged when he took over amidst the rubble of the 2015 World Cup campaign.
"He has done a really excellent job but Saturday will have shocked him - not losing but the manner of the loss."
Woodward then said big calls had to be made on selections if England were to supplant the All Blacks as the world's best, including on whether to retain captain Dylan Hartley as the first-choice hooker.
"This is an exciting time for English rugby," Woodward insists, but facing the All Blacks remains a daunting prospect.
"I can guarantee Steve Hansen and his New Zealand coaches will have looked at the England pack and licked their lips at the prospect, when the two teams finally meet, of moving them around the paddock at high speed for 80 minutes.
"The good news is that apart from the mysterious lack of a natural No 7, England have a huge player base and all sorts of options to utilise as they move up to the next level from this great launching pad."