Auckland - Flyhalf maestro Jonny Wilkinson saluted the crowd as he left the field during England's shock 19-12 World Cup loss to France here on Saturday, but admitted he ached inside at the thought the game was already beyond them.
England's hero, whose drop-goal secured victory in the 2003 World Cup final, had a night to forget like many in the side as their dream of a second trophy slipped away in a sea of handling mistakes, misdirected kicks and stray passes.
The high error count haunted England as scrumhalf Ben Youngs and Wilkinson, with fellow stand-off Toby Flood at inside centre, struggled for rhythm.
Wilkinson was pulled from the field with 15 minutes remaining and England nine points down but not in enough control of their own ball to overtake France.
"It's a painful experience," Wilkinson said after England were unable to make up the 16 point first-half deficit, leaving them to spend Monday preparing to fly home rather than contemplating a semi-final against Wales.
The dearth of points meant he had only one shot at goal, converting Ben Foden's second-half try, leaving him four points shy of New Zealand Dan Carter's Test scoring record of 1 250 points.
Wilkinson said the task ahead of England was huge after they let France get away to a 16-0 half-time lead.
"They have got lots of dangermen and they got a foothold in the game with the points on the board," explained Wilkinson, who plays for French club Toulon.
"We gave ourselves a massive task, but I'm proud of the way the boys took on that task," said Wilkinson, who suffered an elbow injury in the come-from-behind 16-12 win over Scotland last week that saw England into the knockout phase.
"We've faced a lot of criticisms from the outside and had a lot of distractions, but at the end of the day it's World Cup rugby and it's hard," added Wilkinson, also a member of the side that lost the 2007 final to South Africa.
Although he was quick to predict a better fortune for England on home soil at the next World Cup in 2015, the 32-year-old, capped 97 times by his country, was reticent about his own future.
However, he expected the core of the team to "stay together, keeping building and I'm sure the next World Cup will be different".