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The Tight Five - further Six Nations intelligence for the All Blacks to ponder

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James Mortimer     09 Feb 2014     Getty Images

After all, they had come so close to doing what has become vastly difficult to achieve in modern times, and for Irish sides, something that has been beyond them since 1905, even if November 24 last year was a day when the All Blacks were nearly beaten for the first time by one of the most imposing groups ever to wear the misguidingly soft green.

Ireland continues to rise

A two point loss to the All Blacks was immediately shifted to the pertinent question – can Ireland channel such a performance into the 2014 Six Nations?

So far it seems the answer is quite emphatic, putting down Wales challenge with grim purpose 26-3, making a mockery of pre match predictions that the, somewhat obvious Welsh game plan if pundits were to be believed, would be too much for an Ireland still forming their identity.

The latter is true, with Joe Schmidt in his first full international position although his domestic pedigree is unequalled in Europe. But while moulding the Irish with local parts, he is doing so with his distinct stamp that has more than a flash of Kiwi rugby. Certainly the tackling and breakdown work of the side in Dublin overnight would have impressed any All Blacks team.

A visit to Twickenham is next up, and a win isn't impossible, with the Irish winning three of their last five Tests in London. Victory earns the Triple Crown and furthers credentials that this could a championship winning team.

England prove that power needs panache

It is interesting to compare, even if the association is a loose one, the recently completed Sevens tournament in Wellington to the no-nonsense muddy affair that took place in Murrayfield overnight.

As the rain began to drop in Wellington, teams had to shift, away from the popular and purposeful speed the abbreviated game presents, to a tactical affair – in the end the playbook was perfected by the All Blacks Sevens – their breakdown blitz and kicking game was not something one normally associates with Sevens.

Poor conditions in Scotland would have ensured the English pack would have licked their lips, but near complete dominance for the first three quarters of the match yielded just 13 points. The visitors seemed unable to provide the artistic flourishes that make a strong forward unit just one of many brushstrokes.

This perceived one-dimensionality is something that won’t bother multi-faceted teams, remembering the English arrive on New Zealand's shores later this year.

French again provide a delicious question

After their flamboyant win in Paris against England, Philippe Saint-Andre has achieved his first goal in ensuring that the enigmatic French were able to kick off their tournament with a crucial victory.

This week they face Italy, and it is a match that many predict Les Bleus should account for, a different state of affairs to when the English were expected to successfully invade the French capital.

So again that wonderful sonnet from France, the ballad of the Tricolours, will be played at the Stade de France, hosting an Italian unit that would have felt they missed an opportunity after their eight point loss in Cardiff.

Sometimes being expected to win doesn't sit well with the French.

Wales have some work to do

One could barely blink considering the heady glow surrounding Warren Gatland last year, winning numerous awards, while collecting a Six Nations title and Lions Series scalp.

With a core of elite players the Welsh were bidding to become the first team in history to win three straight non-shared Home/Five/Six Nations trophies and are among the only ones who collect those rare wins against SANZAR nations (admittedly Argentina).

However there were some murmurings after the Italians provided such stern resistance, while one cannot suggest that the news coming out of the Welsh regions doesn’t upset the rhythm of the overall national team. It is only one loss but their Celtic rivals moved another hand closer to the trophy, while the prominent up tempo game of Wales looked ineffective against some old fashioned Irish muscle.

Where is Ireland getting these flankers?

Sean O’Brien hasn’t been the only one responsible but has been the front man of this new strongman evolution of the Irish forward effort, and his loss was supposed to hurt.

But Peter O’Mahony, the 24-year-old Munster captain, showed that the production line, all across Ireland’s primary rugby branches, is providing legitimate international class forwards.

O’Mahony put in a man of the match performance, and his mates in Chris Henry and Jamie Heaslip were towers. Many flankers may suggest that there work is defined by the actions of the five men in front of him, and again the Irish tight unit again relished the physical contact to a degree that ball carriers were shifting and crabbing to escape the tackle.