Sunday 21 July 2019

Five things we learned

Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

1: Ireland save their best performance for last

While Scotland's poor showing must be taken into account, Ireland finally displayed some of the creativity that they had been lacking for large parts of the tournament.

Jared Payne, Ireland, is tackled by Matt Scott, left, and Greig Laidlaw, Scotland. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Scotland v Ireland (Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE)
Jared Payne, Ireland, is tackled by Matt Scott, left, and Greig Laidlaw, Scotland. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Scotland v Ireland (Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE)

The pre-planned moves worked a treat with Ireland proving that they can change their game-plan to suit the opposition.

The intensity in their play was typified from the kick-off while Cian Healy forced an early turnover to set the tone.

There were plenty of individual stand-out performers but the collective team effort was perhaps the most pleasing aspect.

Coming into the game, Ireland had scored just four tries in four games. They managed to double that total in a single game.

There's no doubting the quality of the side and with Schmidt on board, Ireland will go into this year's World Cup with a target on their back. How they handle that pressure will be the making or breaking of them.

2: O'Brien is back to his beastly best

When the Tullow Tank pulled up in the warm-up in Rome with a hamstring twinge, it looked for all the world that his luckless run of injuries would ruin his tournament.

O'Brien bounced back in brilliant fashion and his performance at Murrayfield proved that he is back to his unstoppable best.

He was devastating with ball in hand and 13 carries for 76 metres - which also included two tries - saw him deservedly claim the man of the match award.

Ireland are unquestionably an entirely more potent force with a fully fit O'Brien in the side.

Schmidt will now watch the remainder of Leinster's season with bated breath after the flanker gave a timely reminder of just how important he is to Ireland's World Cup hopes.

3: Centre partnership continues to grow

Jared Payne has come in for some unfair criticism but his relationship and understanding with Robbie Henshaw continue to show genuine promise.

The pair had only played together once before the tournament began but they have shown that they are improving with more and more game time together.

Both players thrived out wide and were able to create space for themselves off the back of excellent work at the breakdown.

Three years ago, an 18-year-old Henshaw lifted the Connacht Schools Senior Cup and on Saturday he got his hands on the Six Nations trophy after playing all five games.

He is a very special talent who is a star in the making, and outside him, Payne is growing into the 13 jersey.

Like all partnerships, time to develop is crucial. The signs are positive.

4: There are still areas to work on

While Schmidt will certainly enjoy the moment, the perfectionist in him will know that Ireland's performance was far from flawless.

Scotland were extremely poor but Ireland were still made to work for everything. Three missed penalties (two from Sexton and one from Madigan) that were certainly kickable meant that nine points were carelessly left behind.

The lineout remains a cause for concern with question marks still hanging over Rory Best's throw-ins when under pressure.

Ireland's lack of a Plan B against Wales must not be forgotten. While excelling when taking early leads, going into the World Cup, Schmidt and his brains trust must develop an effective back-up plan.

As Six Nations champions, having room for improvements in several areas bodes well.

5: A bonus point system would increase excitement levels

Admittedly the tournament as a whole wasn't a classic but few will ever forget the roller-coaster of emotion that was the final day.

With Wales, Ireland and England all desperate to rack up big scores, we saw the shackles released from all three and the results were thrilling.

221 points and 27 tries were scored in the three games, which begs the question: is it worth introducing a bonus points system to encourage teams to go out and win games rather than doing all they can not to lose?

The notion isn't a new one but when the powers that be sit down and review this year's tournament, perhaps they will realise that it is the way forward.

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