Rory Best insists Ireland expect to win what he predicts will be a fiercely-contested RBS 6 Nations.
The 2009 Grand Slam champions are rated third favourites behind England and France to reclaim the title they won two years ago. Since Italy joined the competition in 2000, Ireland narrowly trail Les Bleus in an overall Six Nations table, having finished outside the top three just once in that time.
"We're taking part in this competition to win it, that's first and foremost in our mind," said Ulster hooker Best. "That's where we've got ourselves as a squad over the last few years."
He added: "We're all ambitious. Every competition we enter as a province or country we want to win. Every year the Six Nations looks like being close, but especially this year.
"Every team had mixed results and performances in the autumn internationals and European Cup, which is sometimes another barometer of how things are going. Anything can happen on any day in the Six Nations and that's what makes it so tight. That's why there are upsets every year."
Like most of their Six Nations rivals, Ireland endured a mixed autumn as they struggled to make the transition to the expansive game they believe best suits their strengths. Additionally their preparations for the next two months have been undermined by a crippling injury list that has robbed them of 12 Test players.
Yet they still head to the Stadio Flaminio for their opener against Italy on Saturday with just one uncapped player, winger Fergus McFadden, in their 22.
"I don't think the number of injuries is a worry," Best said. "Look at the strength of the squad with the injuries, it says a lot for the way we've evolved over the last six years.
"It's probably not a bad thing to test the depth of the squad. We owe a lot to the way the provinces have developed over the last few years.
"Munster we all know have been there for the last 10 years. Leinster have really come on over the last four or five years and now hopefully Ulster will start to push on. It's important for Irish rugby that all four provinces are going well. Everyone's buoyant in the camp because they're happy at home."