Schmidt: We'll strive for Top-2
Captain Best refuses to look beyond the Scots
It has never been Joe Schmidt's style to express outwardly what he truly feels inwardly when it comes to work.
The affable Ireland coach nearly always keeps his cards close to his chest.
However, he has allowed himself to play the role of part-time pundit in the three previous campaigns to state what he felt would be an acceptable finish for Ireland in the Six Nations.
"The first couple of years I said a Top-2 finish would be great," he said.
"Last year, I said a Top-3 finish would be a good Six Nations for us for where we were at the time.
"We've got to strive to get in that Top-2 again."
He was also quick to list England as the nation most likely to stand in Ireland's way to recapturing the title.
"Obviously, England are at the top of the pile," he said.
"In the last 13/14 months, they have been indomitable. They really have been impressive.
"To go to Australia and get those three results was exceptional and, obviously, they got the Grand Slam last year."
The first of five different challenges of varying degrees of difficulty in the Six Nations will begin in Murrayfield.
"It is hard to say anything beyond that because I think this Six Nations will be the most competitive I've been involved in, in the four years. There are so many teams that have good reference points coming from November, that have good continuity."
Scotland coach Vern Cotter once played the role of mentor to Schmidt the apprentice.
This long and trusted friendship will be put on hold on Saturday week.
"There's a lot going for a lot of teams," he stated.
"Scotland, with the way Glasgow are playing at the moment, that being the core of their team.
"Then, they bring in the class of (Greig) Laidlaw and (Sean) Maitland and Richie Gray from Toulouse.
"They are incredibly hard to beat at Murrayfield."
Schmidt continued to push the unpredictability of the competition.
"You can talk about them all," he said.
"I think Wales are a sleeping giant. I mentioned Scotland.
"France against the All Blacks, if Beauden Barrett doesn't get that intercept, I think France had so many stats on their side in that game that would make them a threat. And Italy beat South Africa.
"When you mix that all in together, it is very hard for anyone to rank 1-to-6 for two months time."
Every sane person in the game presumed Schmidt would use Chicago as a means of making Ireland ready to stun New Zealand two weeks later.
Schmidt didn't see it that way.
The Irish players may have had limited preparation time. Schmidt didn't.
"There is a degree of confidence," said Schmidt.
"To go out and score five tries which was the sum total that had been scored against them in The Rugby Championship was outstanding.
"The conditions on the day, as much as people didn't believe it would have, really suited us.
"We had a real tempo to our game and that allowed us to utilise the ball fully," he added.
Captain Rory Best agreed the Autumn internationals had benefited Ireland and the provinces.
"You can see that since November in the way three of the four provinces have performed in Europe. To a large extent, it doesn't matter what we've done in 2016.
"It's all about making sure we're pushing forward. We've picked apart stuff that we did well in November and stuff we didn't do well."
The danger of looking too far ahead was encapsulated by Best's refusal to consider The Lions or anything beyond Saturday week.
"Ultimately, decisions like that are picked on form," he offered.
"If you start to look further down the line, that's when your form suffers.
"Certainly, Ireland as a collective, that's when we suffer.
"We need to focus on the next task which is preparing to deliver a performance in Murrayfield.
"For us, it's about Scotland."