Ireland might have won their last eight Test matches but head coach Andy Farrell is only looking forwards and says they must improve if they are to win the Guinness Six Nations.
The Men in Green have not lost a match since France won in Round 2 of the 2021 Championship and they have since beaten the likes of Scotland, England and New Zealand.
That strong form has resulted in talk of a first Championship title in four years but Farrell is refusing to get carried away, especially by the 29-20 Autumn Nations Series win against the All Blacks in November.
“We will see if we have the courage to kick on and get better because that is what is going to be needed,” he said at the Guinness Six Nations Launch.
Sexton returns as Ireland captain.
“We want to be living on the edge of where we are at and keep pushing the boundaries to get better. If we have a single focus then, as the saying goes, the scores will take care of themselves.
“We will find a lot out about ourselves. The Guinness Six Nations always takes its own course and it is unpredictable but it is the place you want to be.
“Having the champions at home in our first game is an exciting challenge and then going to Twickenham and Paris is great. We want it to be as tough it can be.”
Farrell almost has a fully fit squad to choose from, with only Iain Henderson a doubt for their opening game against Wales, though he did admit he is unsure when James Lowe will return from a hamstring injury.
Farrell will be able to call upon his captain Johnny Sexton once more, with the fly-half confirming he is fully fit after an injury-hit couple of months.
This will be Sexton’s 13th Championship campaign and he says he’s as excited this year as he ever has been before.
“The pressure never gets easier, I feel the same now as I did for my first one,” he said.
“There is a heightened sense of expectation so how you deal with it is preparing well and knowing that when it comes kick-off against Wales, you have done enough for your best possible performance.”
With three matches at the Aviva Stadium this year, Ireland will be hoping home advantage proves key but Sexton says they are yet to decide on their 2022 goals.
“We only had yesterday together, which was about learning plays and terminology,” he added.
2022 Fixture Prospects: Ireland
“We have not had that conversation yet, we will keep it in-house. We are on a journey and this is a big part of it, we want to win here and now.
“I don’t think you ever come into this Championship with a goal to finish second, you want to win and we need to start well if we are to do that.”
Ireland also face away trips to France and England but first face Wales, who make the short trip across the Irish Sea next Saturday.
The defending champions will be without captain Alun Wyn Jones, as well as other key players such as George North, Taulupe Faletau and Leigh Halfpenny this year but Sexton does not expect a drop-off in performance.
“I know a lot of these players from Lions tours and previously when I played in France and their big focus is playing for Wales, it means so much to them,” he said.
“It is what they dream of doing, they are always better than the sum of their parts.
“They are reigning champions. There was talk of their regions being out of form last year and yet they won the Guinness Six Nations. They’ll be a tough match first up.”