Ireland are hungry to retain their title reveals Brian O'Driscoll

BRIAN O'Driscoll admits last year's Grand Slam heroics have left Ireland determined to retain their place at the summit of European rugby.

Ireland's success in completing only their second clean sweep has whetted their appetite for silverware as they prepare for the championship opener against Italy in ten days' time.

Sweeping all but Australia aside during an unbeaten year has transformed them into the RBS Six Nations' prized scalp, even if France have been installed as the bookmakers' favourites.

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O'Driscoll, competing in his eighth tournament as captain, hopes last season's title has ushered in a period of domination that he intends to enjoy.

"The fact we won hasn't changed the dynamic. Hopefully it's going to be our time again," he said. "You get selfish after obtaining a goal. You get a taste for it.

"It doesn't mean your ambition is less, in fact it probably heightens it. I enjoyed all the trappings that came with the Grand Slam – winning itself, the celebrations and the general feeling in the country. It was great and if we can go that again, why not? It's better than not doing it again.

"As Irish people we don't do middle ground. We're at the very top or down the bottom.

"We've experienced being very low after the 2007 World Cup and it's definitely a nicer feeling being at the top. We want to stay there for as long as we possibly can.

"We're owed nothing after winning the Six Nations last year so we have to go and earn it again and start from scratch."

Key to Ireland's success last season was the prominent role played by their gifted rookie contingent.

Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe, Stephen Ferris and Jamie Heaslip – all 26 or under – established themselves as world-class players and the team flourished as a result.

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O'Driscoll endured a decade of agonising near-misses before he was able to savour the feeling of winning a Grand Slam and the 31-year-old expects the younger generation to benefit from succeeding so early in their careers.

"The older brigade have said that some of the less experienced guys don't really know the ten years of disappointment that we went through," he said.

"You shouldn't try to burn them or tell them about that. Let them go with the flow of winning. If they have that mentality then let them breed that type of thinking into the guys below them.

"That way we'll be heading in the right direction instead of saying it was such a hard battle for ten years and eventually we won it.

"If those young guys can win it early in their career and progress with that mindset, then that's where you want to be." O'Driscoll has ruled out a tactical rethink even though Ireland are entering uncharted waters by defending the Grand Slam.

"There will be no change of emphasis," said the Lions and Leinster centre.

"I was once told you don't ever defend anything, you just role up your sleeves and try to win it again.

"It will be the same attitude that we've had for the past ten years. You try and build into a competition, you don't win it in the first couple of weeks.

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"This is all new ground to me but I won't look at anything differently. I won't treat it any differently. You don't retain anything, you give it back and you try to win it again."