Coach, Joe Schmidt, has installed England as RBS Six Nations championship favourites, but expects Ireland to be right up there with them.
A year ago Schmidt predicted for a mid-table finish for the back-t0-back championships - and got it - based on where he believed his side were going into the 2016 championship, which England won with a Grand Slam.
But with Ireland’s history making performances during the November Guinness Test series and the performances of Leinster and Munster in reaching the last eight of Europe, it is hard for Schmidt to shy away from the expectancy of his side going into the 2017 Championship.
“A top-two finish would be great,” admitted Schmidt.
“I know last year I said a top-three finish would be good given where we were at the time.
“But I think we’ve got to strive to get in that top two again now though.
“It’s hard to say anything beyond that, because I think this Six Nations will be the most competitive I’ll have been involved in.
“There’s so many teams that have good reference points from November and good continuity, and the way Glasgow are going for Scotland at the moment, that’s the core of their team with class on top too.
“There’s a lot going for a lot of teams.
“Obviously England are top of the pile, and for the last 13, 14 months they have been indomitable.
“To go to Australia and produce those three results was exceptional, and obviously they got the Grand Slam last year.”