Princes William and Harry help Jonny and his teammates drown sorrows after World Cup
(dailymail.co.uk) - With a World Cup Final lost and sorrows to be drowned, it was a time for true leadership. William and Harry did not prove lacking.
The England squad might be used to downing a few post-match pints but for conspicuous consumption of champagne, cocktails and raw spirits their experience pales beside that of the party-loving princes.
Harry, 23, was quick to set the pace, swigging vodka from a bottle held by England substitute Toby Flood.
And William, 25, encouraged Jonny Wilkinson, who had given up alcohol in the quest for peak fitness, to down several glasses of champagne.
They appeared to help relax the player, who was egged into kissing his 25-year-old girlfriend, Shelley Jenkins, by teammates squeezed around the bar.
He also had a few moments of male bonding with a bleary-eyed William, who at one point affectionately patted Wilkinson's chest as he lavished praise on the man whose kicking took England to the brink of glory.
The prince later appeared to swap mobile phone numbers with the star.
Wilkinson was also heard squealing with delight after Harry whispered something in his ear.
The marathon drink session had begun just after 1am.
Family and friends formed a 30-yard guard of honour to clap the England side into the lobby of the five-star Courtyard Marriott hotel in West Paris as they returned by coach from the Stade de France bloodied, battered and bruised.
William and Harry, who had given passionate support in the stadium, arrived with friends at a side entrance a few minutes later and joined the party in the hotel bar.
The older prince commiserated with Mike Catt, who was drinking the champagne which had been on ice in the hotel bar all evening in anticipation of an England victory.
He told Catt: "Very bad luck. You played extremely well and showed tremendous spirit."
Harry gave former captain Lawrence Dallaglio a consoling hug and spent 20 minutes chatting with the player's relatives, who were over to watch his last game in an England shirt.
He also made a point of breaking off from his friends to go to speak to team coach Brian Ashton, shaking his hand and thanking him for everything he had done for the national rugby team.
The England side, for all their disappointment, remained remarkably gracious in defeat and several players even congratulated two South African fans who were staying in the hotel.
But as the night went on the fine words and sentiments disappeared in a haze of alcohol.
The hotel party lasted for nearly two hours, during which time William and Harry downed white wine, beer and vodka.
The princes and several of the players and their wives and girlfriends then moved on to L'Etoile - France's answer to Boujis - where the most expensive bottles of wine cost upwards of ?500.
There the party moved up a gear when, in the best traditions of rugby nights out, outside centre Mathew Tait stripped off his shirt as Harry looked on.
Harry later laughed in delight as Wilkinson grabbed the bare-chested Tait, who had come within a yard of scoring a potentially World Cup-winning try just a few hours earlier.
A relative of one player who was at the party said afterwards: "William and Harry were very friendly and chatted with everyone.
"They got completely bladdered and certainly seemed to making the best of a bad situation."
William and Harry left the club 6am looking extremely well refreshed.
After a few hours' sleep, the England squad emerged appearing understandably the worse for wear.
Referring to the game, or perhaps the hangovers, flanker Martin Corry said the atmosphere in the squad was one of "despair and overwhelming disappointment".
He added: "We just knew we could have won this game. We had a massive opportunity and didn't take it."
William and Harry returned to the players' hotel yesterday evening to say farewell to the squad.
The princes sat in the bar drinking and watching the Brazilian Grand Prix with some of the players and their wives.
William told a friend: "I don't know where today has gone. I'm so confused. Tomorrow is going to be the worst hangover ever."
• A record British TV audience for a rugby match - 15.8million - let out a collective groan at the final whistle.
This beat the previous best of 14million for the 2003 final in Australia, although admittedly that took place early in the morning.
Publicans have yet to put a figure on the vast amounts of alcohol consumed around the country on Saturday night but Sainsbury's expected to sell 12.5million bottles and cans of lager, beer and cider for the game - 79 per cent more than usual.