World Cup-winning captain Martin Johnson believes this England squad have their best rugby ahead and urged them not to dwell on their Rugby World Cup final heartache.
South Africa lifted the Webb Ellis Trophy in Yokohama after a 32-12 win over Eddie Jones’ men.
England were favourites heading into the final after a stunning last-four victory against New Zealand, who had won the 2011 and 2015 editions.
It means Clive Woodward’s team from 16 years ago – captained by Johnson – remain the only northern hemisphere side to have won the World Cup, but the 49-year-old believes the nation should not feel all doom and gloom.
“Sometimes you need a little bit of time to reflect after a World Cup and for the players hopefully a lot of them will be there in four years time and get another shot at it,” Johnson told the PA news agency.
“I am sure they probably won’t over analyse it because they go straight back into playing when they get home.
“This team hopefully has its best rugby ahead, not behind it. For someone to beat the All Blacks, they were going to have to play very well and England did that, but South Africa played their best game to beat England.
“I felt for the boys, I felt for the fans, but that is the nature of it. You have to be there in the last game and grab it and we didn’t quite do it.”
Johnson knows how it feels to lose at the World Cup to South Africa, after England were knocked out of the 1999 tournament following a quarter-final defeat to the Springboks.
He conceded it is not talked about often – given the former Leicester lock guided his country to success in Australia four years later – but warned Owen Farrell’s squad this feeling will hurt for a while.
“We won one, but I lost two and it’s horrific and terrible. The 1999 one was hard because we felt we hadn’t played as well as we could and we lost to South Africa, like these boys in a slightly different way,” Johnson said.
“We felt we hadn’t landed our punches and it was gutting. It was deeply gutting for a long time and it took a little bit of time to fully get over, but when we got back together as an England team and winning again and playing well, that is the remedy.
“I don’t think sitting around too long and thinking about what could have been does you any good. It’s probably not that healthy.”
The next opportunity for this England team to win silverware will be in February in the Guinness Six Nations.
Jones, who has a contract with the Rugby Football Union until 2021, will be the man in charge for the opener in France and Johnson feels the Australian should stay as head coach for now.
“He will be gutted and I felt for him. Eddie gets a mixed press, but ultimately he is a guy who has coached teams to World Cup finals, but has not won it as a head coach,” the 49-year-old said.
“I did feel for him as I did for everyone in English rugby and they will need to rebound. They will need to get together.
“You crack on and Eddie will be there for the Six Nations and there is nothing like the intense local rivalry of that tournament to get you back on track.”
Former England head coach Johnson praised Farrell ahead of Saturday’s final and is sure he and many others will be better players for the experience in Japan.
He now called for more talented youngsters to be blooded over the next four years before France 2023.
Johnson added: “Hopefully most of the players will still be there and in the next two or three years we can find more young guys like Tom Curry, Sam Underhill and Kyle Sinckler, who came in after the last World Cup because you always need the next generation coming through.
“The current guys have now got some experience and Farrell too, two tournaments and a final so they have played in the biggest game there is.
“Experience is a great thing and hopefully they improve. You should be a better player when you have 50 caps compared to when you had 10.
“As long as you are physically holding up, you should use that experience to be better and then you go back to confidence and you learn to deal with those situations and those pressures.
“We had the burden of expectation, which is a big one because as soon as you are the underdog it makes it easier.
“South Africa had the underdog tag. Everyone was telling them they would get beaten heavily and it’s such fantastic motivation to be written off.”
Martin Johnson was speaking at the launch of UNTUCKit, who design shirts specifically to be worn untucked – www.untuckit.com