Schmidt seeks home comfort
Joe Schmidt (Getty Images)
London - Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has said strong home form could be the key to his side's Six Nations title chances.
The New Zealander's adopted country welcome Scotland and Wales to Dublin in the opening two rounds of the Championship next month.
However, they face just a six-day turnaround between those matches and Schmidt said how Ireland coped with those Aviva Stadium clashes would set the tone for their tournament.
"If we could defend the Aviva that would be great," said Schmidt at the Six Nations launch in London on Wednesday.
"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."
Ireland finished a disappointing fifth in last season's Six Nations but, under Schmidt, ran their new coach's native New Zealand desperately close before going down 24-22 to the world champions in a thrilling match in Dublin in November.
Reflecting on that last-gasp loss, former Leinster boss Schmidt admitted: "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."
Ireland captain Paul O'Connell added: "It's a shame we didn't close out (the New Zealand) game like we should have done because we achieved a lot of the things we'd been working on with Joe in that game.
"Playing Scotland first will be a very tough game for us, we were beaten well by them up there last year."
This Six Nations is set to be Ireland great Brian O'Driscoll's last before retirement but O'Connell stressed there had been no slacking from the veteran centre.
"He's still in good shape, as hungry as ever, and driving our standards. He has a lot of respect all across the Six Nations and especially within our squad."