Rory Best insists that Ireland have a squad capable of winning the RBS Six Nations, but thinks the competition will be a closely-fought affair.
The 2009 Grand Slam winners are currently rated third favourites for the crown behind England and France, both of whom they play at home this year.
Ireland narrowly trail Les Bleus in the overall Six Nations table since the addition of Italy in 2000 and have finished outside the top three only once during that period.
They have taken the runner-up spot on six occasions but now Best thinks that Declan Kidney's side are ready to return to the top.
"We're taking part in this competition to win it, that's first and foremost in our mind," the Ulster hooker said.
"That's where we've got ourselves as a squad over the last few years. 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."
Best will feature in a new-look front row with Cian Healy and Mike Ross when Ireland open their campaign against Italy in Rome on Saturday, and the 28-year-old is taking nothing for granted.
He added: "We're under no illusions, Italy are a very good team. We've seen a lot of them in the Magners League and at Ulster we faced Aironi in Europe.
"When you come off the field after 80 minutes against an Italian side you really know you've had a game of rugby.
"If you take any of them lightly, they'll beat you. Leinster lost in Treviso at the start of the Magners League and that shows they have the ability to beat teams.
"They've evolved a lot over the last few years under their coach Nick Mallett. They're now a very different animal. We have to give them respect."