Auckland - England manager Martin Johnson blamed his side's inability to deal with the high ball for a "brutal" 19-12 quarter-final loss to France that ended their turbulent Rugby World Cup campaign on Saturday .
A dejected Johnson felt the game was gone in the first half when the gallant French raced to a 16-0 lead with a dominant kicking game and although England fought back with two second half tries, it was not enough.
It brought an end to a World Cup where Johnson, England's victorious captain when they won the Webb Ellis Cup in 2003, was sidetracked into dealing with the fall-out from his players questionable off-field behaviour.
When it was over, the former lock could not bring himself to say England, losing finalists in France four years ago, were totally outplayed and he refused to comment on speculation his time in charge was now at an end.
But he was clearly unhappy with the way England started the game, losing their first lineout, as well as their repeated handling errors.
"The key thing in the first half was probably two things - their (France's) kicking game, their aerial game," he said.
"They won that battle that led to territory and then we had some poor defence on the edge twice."
He said England were confident at half-time they could fight their way back but the points did not come quickly enough, despite tries by Ben Foden and a second from Mark Cueto with three minutes left.
England qualified for the sudden-death match after completing pool play unbeaten although they rarely looked convincing in their come-from-behind wins over Argentina (13-9) and Scotland (16-12).
"We left ourselves a lot to do in three games and were able to do it in two of them but not against a higher quality opposition," Johnson said with the half-time against France proving too big a hurdle for England.
"We created more chances to score than they probably did, strange as that sounds when you got beaten. But the difference was they took theirs, and took theirs early, and then you're chasing the game.
"I'm proud of the way the guys fought back in the second half, the effort was fantastic but we left ourselves with far too much to do.
"It's brutal but that's what World Cups are."
The England players were devastated by the outcome and scrum-half Ben Youngs said: "Unfortunately we probably blew it in the first 20 minutes.
"It's almost our fault they scored off our mistakes, but I don't think they were outstandingly better than us."
James Haskell, who replaced captain Lewis Moody in the second half, insisted: "The team we've got, we should not be going home. The guys are devastated."
Johnson, whose contract is up for renewal at the end of the year, refused to comment on his own future.
"I'm not getting into that conversation right now, it's not the right place and not the right people, or the right time," he said.
It has been a difficult World Cup for Johnson, who had to deal with the unwelcome distraction of off-field controversy.
Three players were forced to apologise to a female hotel employee for harassment while Mike Tindall - married to the granddaughter of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II - admitted he'd misled officials about his night with a mystery woman, later said to be an "old friend" by those close to the England centre.
Tindall initially said he was only in one bar with the woman until photo evidence emerged showing them in a second bar where they "behaved like a smooching teenage couple" according to media reports.