Humiliating. No other word for it.
Even when England were terrible in the days before Will Carling made winning the norm for the Red Rose, things were never this bad.
When England staggered to some humbling home defeats under Andy Robinson a couple of years ago, it seemed the nadir had been reached. In actual fact, the fall was only gathering momentum.
A miraculous and supreme effort from the old warhorses somehow took England all the way to the last World Cup final, but that gave no indication of the nation’s true standing in the world. The 42-6 defeat to South Africa – the worst ever result at Twickenham by a country mile – guarantees they are out of the top four world seedings, but also suggests next year’s Six Nations will be an almighty struggle.
The losing try-count on Saturday of 5-0 gives an indication of just how depressing the outcome was. Imagine England’s footballers losing 5-0 at home to Argentina and you pretty much get the picture.
It may be that New Zealand are not as good as South Africa at the moment, in which case England may be spared a fresh entry in the record books for a record home defeat just seven days after setting a new bench-mark by 15 points. But that may now be the limit of the ambitions in a shell-shocked outfit as an inevitable third successive home defeat looms.
In virtually every phase of play, Martin Johnson’s men were found wanting to such a degree that already there may be doubts that the great man can make the transition from legendary player to successful coach. It is not a given in football, quite the reverse in fact, and the scale of the defeat must shake even this confident man’s beliefs at the very foundations.
South Africa, it must be said, are an awesome team and at times they really did create the impression they were overwhelming some emerging nation yet to be admitted to the Test arena.
They were quicker, stronger, more tactically aware, far more robust in defence, sharper on the break, more clever in their decision-making, more precise in their kicking from hand. Johnson’s men, by comparison, were frightened rabbits in the headlights, with far too many giving the impression they were willing the nightmare to end quickly.
How they can be expected to revive to face the All Blacks is beyond imagination.
Danny Cipriani had an awful afternoon. Although he was not alone in his discomfort by any means, the image that endures of Saturday's shambles is of his slow-motion attempt to kick clear in midfield and seeing Ruan Pienaar charge down to run in the second try.
It set the tone for a dismal afternoon, where England’s lion’s share of possession counted for nothing. Several times they got within 10 yards of the Boks’ try-line but did not have the invention or recycling speed necessary to make it count. For the Boks, it looked like child’s play.
Phil Vickery, who played in England’s all-time record defeat (the 76-0 trouncing to Australia in Brisbane in 1998) admitted this defeat was even worse than that famously ill-advised attempt to give fringe players a run-out
“I don’t think there’s any lower you can get than that,” the prop said. “There’s nowhere to hide, no magic wand. Everyone’s got to pull together. It’ll be a huge test of character.”
That is putting it mildly. This weekend’s game will be watched through eyes peeping between closed fingers. It is quite a while since such a sense of hopelessness attended an upcoming fixture at Twickenham and it could be a very long 80 minutes.