So Ireland have lost by 11 points to England in Twickenham. It wasn't 2012-level bad but Ireland were dominated in large parts of the game and still, strangely, can feel like this was one that got away. Ryle Nugent made the point that this will be the most assuring result of the Six Nations for Ireland, despite the points difference. Years from now, we may look at this defeat as a new dawn, but in the here and now, it feels like Ireland, for all the expected commitment, were beaten well by a team that struggled to get out of its own way.
I turned on the RTE panel at fulltime expecting a more mournful tone. Instead there was a hint of elation amongst the gloom. The old bromides were being spouted - that England have a much bigger playing pool, that they have a new coach, that they're an up-and-coming young team. I hadn't heard these excuses in years. Daire O'Brien was talking up the old amateur values: courage, character, etc. Never did the panel address the fact that Ireland had 14-man England on the ropes in the last 10 minutes and couldn't finish the job. That the Irish lineout was crap. There was little criticism of Ireland's futile game plan in the first 40 minutes.
Those heady days about dreaming about World Cups is over for Irish fans. The wild #injoewetrust hope is gone as well. Irish rugby has enter the glum stage of mediocrity that American sports teams call 'transition'. What surprises me, though, is how well the rugby experts are taking the news.
Do I share the optimism the optimism about Dillane, van der Flier, McCloskey et al? Sure. Do I accept that it may take a generation before the likes of O'Connell and O'Driscoll are replaced? Absolutely. But what was most refreshing about the first two years of the Schmidt era was the utter ruthlessness where victory is concerned. Where has that ruthlessness gone? Poite's line of questioning on the van der Flier try was disappointing, but again, Ireland had a winnable game in this Six Nations and again it slipped. Execution was Joe's mantra. Ireland did not execute in critical positions. What has changed?
2016 for Irish rugby comes into focus now. Winnable games versus Italy and Scotland are next and then very difficult test matches vs South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. The gloss is off the Schmidt era. The next few months will be intriguing, and one feels, difficult viewing.