Johnny Sexton has declared himself fit for the start of the Guinness Six Nations and believes “anyone can go out and win” the tournament.
Captain Sexton arrived in the Irish camp nursing a hamstring problem but trained fully on Wednesday and feels ready to lead his country into Sunday’s opener away to Wales.
Andy Farrell’s side were unconvincing in 2020, finishing third in both the Six Nations and the Autumn Nations Cup.
Fly-half Sexton admits Ireland must “go up a couple of levels” to close the gap to defending champions England and an exciting young France team but anticipates a wide-open battle for the Championship title.
“Every team is sat in their different training centres setting targets to win the Six Nations, you’re not coming in here going, ‘I hope we finish third or second’,” said the 35-year-old.
“We’re here to try and win, that’s the name of the game in professional sport.
“How do we do that? We do that by performing well and by trying to get better from our last outing.
“We felt we built through the Autumn Nations Cup after a disappointing end to the Six Nations and we want to go up a level, we want to go up a couple of levels because we want to be able to challenge the best teams in Europe for the foreseeable future.
“We want to be up there with the best and that’s France and England at the moment.
“But you look at the Six Nations table and anyone can go out and win it, I think.”
Ireland were outshone by Eddie Jones’ reigning champions and Les Bleus last year.
They suffered convincing losses at Twickenham in both tournaments played, while defeat in Paris ultimately cost them the Six Nations title.
Leinster man Sexton feels his country are not far behind their two main title rivals but accepts proving it is a different matter.
“Time will tell, won’t it? It doesn’t matter how much we talk about it and how good we say things are in camp,” he said.
“We have to put out performances that reflect that and we have to get results that reflect that also.
“We can believe one thing but until we go out and prove it on the pitch and play to our potential and get the results that we feel we need to get within this group (it is irrelevant).
“But then we all know how close we are to England and France. We don’t play France for two weeks, we play Wales, and all of our focus is on that and making sure we get the campaign off to a good start.”