Andy Farrell insists Ireland are closing the gap on defending champions England ahead of the 2021 Guinness Six Nations.
The Men in Green are seeking their first Championship trophy since 2018’s Grand Slam and kick off their campaign away to Wales in Round 1.
Ireland had a chance to win the 2020 Championship but a 35-27 defeat to France in Round 5 opened the door for England to claim a third title in five years.
Ireland then finished third in the Autumn Nations Cup, behind England and France again, and while he accepts those two sides start this campaign as favourites, Farrell warned against writing his team off.
“There’s a pecking order at this moment in time where two teams are going in as favourites and we aspire to be that. I suppose that comes from hard work and performing under pressure,” he said at the official 2021 Guinness Six Nations launch.
“We are not far at all. We made a couple of comments at the end of the autumn, we know where we are going and we know how far we are from being there.
“We are nearly where we want to be but this is it now, this is the Six Nations. It is a fantastic competition and it is there to be won by a number of teams but to do that there are number things we need to be better at.
“I suppose the big question over the last while has been about dealing with the big games. But we have got to get through our first game and assess where we are at before we talk about the last game.
“We want to compete to win the competition and we are a side that has developed in lots of ways but it is all about putting the pieces together to produce a performance we are proud of.”
Ireland’s mettle will be tested straight away in Round 1 as they chase a first Guinness Six Nations victory at Principality Stadium since 2013.
They then host France a week later before back-to-back away games against Italy and Scotland, and finish with a potential Round 5 showdown with England.
Ireland captain Jonathan Sexton is refusing to look that far ahead but admits there is a determination to right the wrongs from their Round 5 defeat to France last year.
“England are the one team we have not thought about at all. They are the last team we play, so we are thinking about Wales first and then France,” he said.
“But we want to go into that game against England with something on the line, that is where we were last year against France but we did not turn up on the day. We want to put that right.”