There may be a World Cup waiting at the end of the year, not to mention greater challenges in the Six Nations than a trip to Rome, but Ireland are determined not to look any further ahead than this afternoon's task against Italy.
Ireland have won their last 14 meetings with Italy – they have never lost to them in the Six Nations – but the lessons of the last World Cup, when they failed to make it out of the group stages, remain as a stark reminder of the dangers of getting ahead of themselves.
Having been an integral player in the 2009 Grand Slam, Luke Fitzgerald returns in the No 15 shirt having missed the whole of last season's campaign through injury. The 23-year-old is urging his team-mates not to repeat the mistakes of the 2007 World Cup.
"We need to focus on the Six Nations first," said Fitzgerald. "Obviously we've got to set our goals in the competition but I think the best way to go about being successful is to take every game as it comes and that's what we'll be doing.
"In the last World Cup we looked too far ahead and didn't live in the moment, which is so important – you've got to live for now. We obviously want to do well in the World Cup and it's probably the most important competition, but the Six Nations is still huge. I think we've got a good chance."
The Leinster winger, who switches to full-back in Rome this afternoon, missed the 2010 Six Nations with a serious injury to his left knee and has recently returned after a second injury to the same knee that he suffered in November, but he insisted it is "not a concern, the knee is perfect going forward."
"I have no concerns with my form. I showed in the November internationals what I was capable of and I was finding my feet again and I felt very comfortable. I feel like I can do it again even though I maybe haven't had as much rugby as I'd hoped."
His return is offset by a notable list of absentees – Jamie Heaslip, Stephen Ferris, Rob Kearney and Geordan Murphy are missing – but Fitzgerald believes Ireland have the depth of squad to cope with the demands of the six-week tournament. Mike Ross will make his Six Nations debut in the front row in place of another injured absentee, the veteran prop John Hayes.
"We've got a big squad, if players get injured there are quality players to step in," he said. "We've got 30-35 guys vying for places, if not more, who are in contention for a place, so it's really competitive at the moment.
"I think they'll be trying to get some continuity and get guys comfortable with each other in the Six Nations – that's important if you want to win the competition, and we certainly do.
"I have massive confidence in our team and if we play to the best of our abilities we definitely have a shout in all of the matches. We can beat any team in the competition."
This season's Six Nations presents two tough home tests for the Irish – next up are France, with England to follow – but they have finished in the top two in four of the last five years. Their last fixture will be against England at their new Aviva Stadium home on Lansdowne Road. The France game will be the first Six Nations match Ireland have played there since the previous stadium was demolished in 2007.
They have been playing at Croke Park since then and though they had mixed results in a recent spate of home internationals in their new stadium Fitzgerald was excited about playing a major tournament in what he described as "Irish rugby's home."
"Everyone's really excited about it," he said. "We got to play a few autumn internationals there and the atmosphere was unbelievable so I expect it to go up another notch in the Six Nations."
More specifically, Fitzgerald is excited about the prospect of a final Six Nations encounter against England there – potentially with everything still to play for.
"Hopefully both teams would have done well throughout the competition so there is something riding on it, which will add a bit of spice to it," he added. "Not that you need to add spice to an England-Ireland fixture.
"If both teams are in with a shout in the competition, it'll be a big occasion at home. We want that and England would want that. It's a big challenge for both sides to play well because there's so much vying on it.
"I don't know why but there's always that added bit of spice in an England-Ireland fixture. I don't know what it is about it, but we always look forward to it."
Luke Fitzgerald was speaking at the filming of a unique sweat session launching Powerade ION 4, a new sports drink which helps replenish the four minerals lost in sweat. To find out more and watch the sweat session video visit www.poweradegb.com.Reuse content