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'The standard is getting better' - Heaslip says Six Nations is on the rise

Last weekend’s action was the most exciting yet.

LAST WEEKEND’S EXCITEMENT in the Six Nations was probably well timed.

While it is natural for Test sides to get better with each week they spend training together, round four was one of the more enjoyable for supporters, with 20 tries across the three games.

Jamie Heaslip celebrates his try with teammates Ireland celebrate one of their nine tries against Italy. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ireland’s meeting with Italy was as far from a contest as you can get in the Six Nations, but there were many moments to excite the crowd in the Aviva Stadium.

Scotland’s win over France was entertaining and featured some thrilling attacking play. England impressed for the opening 60 minutes of their victory over Wales, before there was drama with the near-comeback by Warren Gatland’s men.

Before last weekend, the argument that this has not been a vintage Six Nations was easy to make, hence the recognition that round four was so important.

Sadly, we won’t go into the final weekend of play with the title still to be decided, though there is interest in seeing whether or not Eddie Jones’ England can secure the Grand Slam in Paris.

“I think what you are seeing is the game constantly keeping itself in check,” says Ireland number eight Jamie Heaslip with regard to the quality of this year’s tournament.

Granted, England have won it, but I think there hasn’t been much in a lot of the games. No team has really ran away with the thing. I know England have the four out of four wins and are going for the Grand Slam, but not all those games have been easy for them.

“I think they got a bit of a shock there at the weekend with the comeback from Wales. France will definitely be licking their lips at the opportunity.

“But in general, I think it just shows the level of opportunity. If you make a mistake, you get punished. I think England are probably the most clinical side in the competition, it just highlights that, but I think the standard is getting better and better every year.

“The ball is staying in play more, definitely this Six Nations was a lot faster with a lot more ball-in-play, I felt anyway. From the numbers, it looks like there was a lot more high-speed metres, so it’s a faster game.”

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Jamie Heaslip Heaslip feels the Six Nations is improving all the time. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Indeed, Ireland set a strong standard for ball-in-play time on the opening weekend with a total of 42:51 in their meeting with Wales.

Joe Schmidt’s side have kicked the ball slightly less often in the this championship than previous iterations under Schmidt, with an average of 25.5 kicks per game so far, compared to 26 in 2015 and 27.4 in 2014.

Tries had been a major issue for Ireland until last weekend in Dublin, with just two in three games before they ran nine past Italy in a performance that included no less than 20 linebreaks – a Six Nations record for Ireland under Schmidt.

Whatever about the figures, Ireland simply couldn’t get over the line against Wales and France in the opening two rounds, both of those games eminently winnable upon reflection.

Heaslip insists that he never looks backwards unless to learn, but the French game in particular will be viewed as the low point for Ireland.

I think we’ve won this competition [in 2014 and 2015] by the same margin that we’ve lost it by this year,” says Heaslip.

“It’s very fine margins, and I think just shows players those fine margins, that a lot of hard work has to be put in to put yourself in the situation where you might get that outcome, as such, but that outcome is determined by that effort, and that body of work you put in.

“Not just in a day out, two days out, three days out, a week out, but the whole entire season, putting work in daily, so that you give yourself the opportunity to be in with a shout to win something.”

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Murray Kinsella

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