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England could have the bonus of Six Nations triumph thanks to late show

Crucial try: England’s Henry Slade (right) and Manu Tuilagi
Crucial try: England’s Henry Slade (right) and Manu Tuilagi
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

On a few occasions during this Six Nations Championship, Joe Schmidt has either been asked about or referenced the mass exodus that occurred in the closing minutes of the opening round defeat at home to England.

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The ever diplomatic Ireland coach - who will be in charge of his final Six Nations encounter against Wales in Cardiff on Saturday - stressed that he understood the reasoning from those who chose to stream towards the exits early.

It had been a game that Ireland entered feeling on top of the world, Grand Slam winners and conquerors of the All Blacks.

What followed served only to let the air out of the celebratory balloon, Manu Tuilagi and the brothers Vunipola smashing their hosts' pre-tournament optimism to smithereens.

When the Six Nations brought in bonus points for the 2017 Championship, they did so knowing that it would have had no discernible effect on the previous season's table.

"The drama and excitement of the last weekend of the Six Nations Championship is unique and is, more often than not, driven by a number of teams on equal Championship points all competing for first place in the table," said the Six Nations then CEO John Feehan at the time.

"It is important for us to ensure that any bonus point system which is implemented would not, in any way, take away from this unique dynamic.

"At the same time, we are also conscious that we must reward try scoring and an attacking style of play that will deliver more tries and greater rewards for fans and players alike."

Yet initially the change proved to be much ado about nothing. Still too many games have been forgone conclusions long before the final whistle while also instigating no change in either of the subsequent final tables.

But consider this. An hour into the game at the Aviva, and an out of sorts Ireland trailed Eddie Jones' men by only four points.

England, having dominated things, had allowed Ireland to hang around only to make things safe with Henry Slade's try 15 minutes from time.

Cue the mad dash for the exits from a sizeable number of the 51,000 in attendance. Given the harrowing nature of what they'd just witnessed, Schmidt it seemed understood if some sought to beat the traffic or gain a 15 minute head-start in the race for a coveted barstool.

The irony is, if Ireland beat Wales to deny them a Grand Slam on Saturday, those departing fans could well have missed the most important final quarter of the tournament.

From that point, England outscored Ireland by three points, with the action that plenty missed essentially producing a two-point swing in the table.

England got their fourth try, and a bonus point, while Ireland couldn't close the gap, costing them a losing bonus point.

It is those two points that are the difference between the two sides in the table. Had those last 15 minutes played out differently, without changing the result of the game, Ireland would have been heading to Cardiff with their destiny in their own hands.

By ensuring England's dominance in the first weekend could be what ultimately separates Jones' side and Ireland in the table, bonus points have proved their worth.

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