Joe Schmidt: Home form key to success
A flawless home record and one win away from home could catapult Ireland into RBS 6 Nations title contention, according to head coach Joe Schmidt.
Ireland boss Schmidt bemoaned a six-day turnaround between hosting Scotland and facing Wales in Dublin in the tournament's opening two rounds.
The former Leinster head coach has targeted that transition as key to Ireland's chances of remaining unbeaten at the Aviva Stadium.
Throw in victory in one of France or England, and Schmidt believes Ireland have a chance to trouble the top end of the tournament table.
"If we could defend the Aviva that would be great," said Schmidt.
"If we manage an away victory against either England or France as well, then that would put us in the mix for a shot at being in the top two.
"That would be a fantastic achievement given where we've come from, but that's not to say that's our clear expectation.
"We know we've got a lot of hard work ahead of us.
"The six-day turnaround from Scotland to Wales is a really big ask.
"There's nothing we can do about that and you just have to get on with it, just like you can't control the calls of a referee.
"But it's unfortunate that we're not going to get a great run-in to a game against a great team like Wales, especially after facing a combative outfit like Scotland.
"We'll only really have one real training session that week, so we'll have to make it count."
Schmidt admitted Ireland's flabbergasting 24-22 last-play defeat to world champions New Zealand in November has been a "recurring nightmare" for him personally.
The former New Zealand schoolteacher is confident his players have moved quickly past that autumn frustration, however.
"We managed to move past it pretty quickly when we met up again ahead of Christmas," said Schmidt.
"It's been a bit of a recurring nightmare for me, however, because it's the first time I've had this experience as a national coach.
"In the past I have always had the next week to get a game out of my system, and my team too.
"So adapting to that change has been a different process for me.
"The players are in good shape though, and now we're just excited about the challenges ahead in the competition."