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Flawed system proves a winner at the end of the day

By Tony Ward

How quickly things change. A few weeks ago, specifically in the aftermath of the French slugfest, I expressed concern for the state of rugby at the highest level and where it might be heading. I still harbour many of those concerns, but on Saturday, like many people, I fell back in love with this great game.

What we witnessed on Super Saturday was spellbinding, pulsating, gripping, spine-tingling, riveting, nerve-wracking. As a promo for the game and, more particularly, an advert for the upcoming World Cup, it could hardly be bettered.

The beauty of sport is in the eye of the beholder and no sport can claim to be the best but when Union is played as it was in Rome, Edinburgh and London on Saturday, it is up there.

But what was it that made last weekend so different? What turned the four-series bore to date (with the very odd exception) into a classic, free-spirited finale that enthralled the world?

Without wishing to be overly simplistic, it comes down to one word: mindset. A system where any team can have an advantage over its competitors before a ball is kicked is flawed. Staggered kick-offs on the last day are central to the TV deal, but if there was any chance of a fairer approach and concurrent timing kicking in for 2016, well Saturday put paid to that idea.

There will be many suggestions as to how the Six Nations can be tweaked, specifically in terms of addressing scoring values - perhaps by increasing the try to six points and dropping the penalty kick to two or introducing the bonus-point system that's used in almost every other rugby competition.

For now, though, it's hats off to World Rugby but more specifically to Johnny Feehan, Billy Beaumont and the Six Nations Council for paving the way and in the process showing what is still possible when the coaching mindset is right.

Everything All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said mid-tournament about the game getting boring was bang on the money. To put it in context, we had 35 tries in the opening four rounds yet 27 were registered on the final day.

It would not have happened if the final-day circumstances, including the staggered timing of the games, weren't what they were. It's great on occasion to be proved wrong and this was one of them.

It was still Test rugby, but played out in all three games with a different mindset entirely.

And the end result? An incredible day for Irish rugby.

It wasn't just winning the title on Saturday, but much more crucial was the manner in which we bounced back from Cardiff the previous week.

Such was the variety in our comprehensive drubbing of the Scots that with it came a taste of what is possible and, yes, when the attacking mindset on both sides is right.

Had we won at the Millennium Stadium and followed it up again on Saturday, it would have taken us to August and the build-up to the World Cup with the added pressure of an unbeaten run to protect.

To lose in Cardiff was a reality check. While the August friendlies will present a different type of challenge, the reality of knockout rugby will add to the likely conservatism.

Schmidt is no one's fool and will have learned from Saturday.

Why can't it be like this all the time? I think we all know the answer. Rugby is still feeling its way in professional terms when compared to, say, football but coaching jobs are precarious.

The defensive gurus will have been apoplectic at what they witnessed and we doubt too much sleep was had since.

Our hearts bleed, but what a game, what a day and what a title defence.

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