The final round of Heineken Champions Cup pool games always provides drama.

Although the format is different to what we're used to, the changes in seedings throughout the weekend provided a lot of excitement within the games.

The current format, with an added qualifying round of 16 teams, doesn’t make the competition as ruthless and teams that have lost half their games have managed to sneak into another round.

Our Irish teams strolled through to the qualifying round which they haven’t managed to do in recent years. However, to get to the same quarter-final stage, they are going to need big wins across two legs.

The noticeable thing during the weekend was the quality of rugby played by the four provinces.

The Munster players celebrate Simon Zebo's second try

Munster showed a definite change in ambition in Thomond Park on Sunday.

Those inside the playing group will tell you that it’s always been within them and maybe with the team already having qualified, being at home in Thomond Park and an increase in crowd capacity, it might have aided the whole thing coming together that bit easier, but you can’t deny the change in attacking strategy.

Maybe their disruptions from South Africa and with Covid-19 have finally been put to bed.

Led by Ben Healy’s control around the pitch, Munster threw more offloads than I’ve seen in a while. Offloading is something we come to expect from Leinster and Connacht, while Ulster have been better at it than Munster as well, through the likes of Hume, McCloskey, and Lowry.

However, Munster showed that they are also more than capable of moving the point of contact and speeding up their ball. When you think back to their performance away against Connacht, Sunday was a complete contrast in attacking intent.

Offloading in attack isn’t a completely different attacking strategy. You’ll still know where the opposition defend hardest, and you have to attack to the space that has been identified across the pitch.

However, with more aggressive line speed in defence these days, once you get in behind that defence you want to keep the ball alive and moving forward so the defence doesn’t have time to scramble and reset.

Therefore, offloading down the same attacking channel keeps your attacking game on the front foot and increases the speed of your ball which moves the opposition defence more than they would like.

With the law variations now favouring the poaching player due to the fear of long-term injuries, the longer you are in possession of the ball and the more rucks you set up, the more chance you have of losing possession as a result of a penalty for an accurate poach.

Poachers only have to lock on to the ball for a second or two now and the penalty is being awarded. Therefore, avoiding rucks helps to hold on to possession while you’re also keeping the opposition scrambling more than they would like.

Defences like structure. Defenders want to be able to line up their man and as a group you try to get wide in your set up so you can get off the line more aggressively. Therefore, you must flip that around in attack. Offloading is one of the most effective ways of changing the point of contact and forcing the defence to keep moving.

However, that doesn't mean it is easy to enforce an offloading game and to be fluid in attack just because you’ve decided to be. Often, when teams force the offload too much it can be a result of poor decision making within the contact area and it can really upset their game due to not holding on to the ball for long enough to stress the opposition.

"Offloading is one of the most effective ways of changing the point of contact and forcing the defence to keep moving"

Players must control the tackle area before deciding to offload, and that’s before we even speak about the support play. When you see offloads not going to hand, it is mostly due to the ball carrier not winning the collision or not being in control of the defender that is tackling him but trying to offload the ball anyway.

When you see successful offloads, it is more than likely because the attacker has found space to attack and has won the space on the tackle line, driving through the contact and freeing their shoulders and hands through the other side of the tackle.

That will mean they are in control of possession and can look around to find their support runner while their hands are free to execute the skill more accurately.

With the law variations now favouring the poaching player due to the fear of long-term injuries, the longer you are in possession of the ball and the more rucks you set up, the more chance you have of losing possession as a result of a penalty for an accurate poach.

Coaching a team to offload more is difficult because you want to get the right balance. I’m sure many coaches out there have made the mistake of discouraging an offload at some point in their career to minimise mistakes that might be happening in training or in matches.

This is a mistake from a coaching point of view, particularly now that defences seem to have the upper hand from a law variations perspective.

You have to coach the decision while allowing players to work on their execution. The execution will come from throwing passes in training, whether they are static before training, as part of a skills drill during the session or as part of an overall training game at higher speeds.

Players must throw more offloads and more passes to become comfortable with controlling the ball with one or two hands in a live situation.

I get a lot less frustrated with a ball not going to hand if the decision was the right one and if I’ve seen the player attempting a skill like that before.

The match is not the best time to introduce a skill you’ve never practiced, but if the player has been throwing those kinds of passes in training, then as a coach you know they are capable of it and their execution has just left them down slightly.

Ben Healy has been central to Munster's new offloading turn

But when is it the right decision? When you’re on the front foot, when you’re attacking into space, when you’re more in control of the tackle situation than the defender, that’s the right time to get your hands free and look for an offload. It’s then up to the support players to stay positive and live in the phase you’re in to pick a line close to offloading player and keep the ball alive.

Of course, there’s some game management involved too. You’re not going to resort to an offload as freely if you’re a point up with a few minutes to go.

You’d probably be more careful with the offload and hang on to possession to see out the game. If you’re up against a dominant defence that keep beating you on the tackle line it’s going to be harder as well.

Although, that’s the very reason why Connacht move the ball faster than other teams. They know they don’t have enough dominant carriers in their pack to compete with the stronger sides. Therefore, they use their speed of ball to move the opposition more and keep them on the run, not allowing them to set.

An accurate offloading game makes rugby a better spectacle to watch but as spectators we must understand what drives it, when it is appropriate and that sometimes the weather just doesn’t allow you to be as free flowing as you’d like. With most of the winter out of the way, hopefully we’ll see this offloading continue as the season goes on.