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O'Driscoll calls for Ireland progress

Brian O'Driscoll will lead Ireland into tomorrow's RBS 6 Nations opener warning his team-mates they must continue to evolve if they are to retain their title.

Ireland completed their first Grand Slam in 61 years in last season's championship and launch their defence against Italy at Croke Park.

But despite sweeping all before them, Declan Kidney's side showed only glimpses of the buccaneering rugby they are capable of producing.

O'Driscoll believes finally winning the Grand Slam after so many near misses will liberate Ireland, but also realises that failing to improve will result in ruin.

"There's an element of the monkey now being off our back, but that's come and gone," he said.

"You just forget that and look to another campaign, putting the same pressure on yourself to perform.

"We've spoken about expectations and we know we can't remain stagnant, otherwise other teams will pass us by. That's our sole focus."

O'Driscoll has been reunited with Leinster colleague Gordon D'Arcy in Ireland's midfield for a partnership that has proved highly effective in the past.

D'Arcy has been rewarded for his fine form this season, displacing Ulster's Paddy Wallace who was first choice at inside centre during the Grand Slam march.

"I'm pleased that Gordon is back. It took him time a while to get back from that broken arm - he was out for a year," said O'Driscoll.

"It's great that he's hitting form and it's good to have Paddy playing well also.

"There's so much competition in the team - it means you always get the best out of one another and ensure complacency doesn't creep in.

"You just can't afford to think that the jersey is yours for a full campaign.

"But Gordon has been doing extremely well and is doing what he's good at.

"One thing that I took on myself last year is to get back to what you're good at and concentrate on your strengths.

"He's done that and it's working for him."

Italy are heavy favourites to land a third successive wooden spoon but Kidney insists any side coached by Nick Mallett should not be dismissed so easily.

"I've always admired Nick and his teams - they always play for each other," said the Ireland coach.

"Nick is tidying up little bits, while at the same time retaining their core values."