Tyrone Howe believes a steely mindset is what sets the current Ireland team apart from those that have gone before.

Howe won 14 caps for Ireland between 2000 and 2006 and has watched on in awe as Andy Farrell's side have powered to the top of the world rankings and sealed back-to-back Six Nations titles.

Ireland bounced back from a disappointing defeat to New Zealand in last autumn's Rugby World Cup when they were many people's favourites for the title by clinching a second Six Nations title. something Howe believes demonstrates the current side's elite mentality.

“I think the difference is that Ireland expect to win,” Howe said. “Before, Ireland went into games as underdogs and sometimes glorious defeat was acceptable; too acceptable. 

“Now they are winning. Now teams don’t want to play Ireland, and that is an amazing place to be in, that you are a properly amazing team. They are in that position because they deserve it.

“They genuinely believed they could win the World Cup. It shows the strength of character, because you have got to bounce back from those things. They won the Six Nations and bounced back.

“Winning that tournament is still unbelievably difficult. The belief is still there. 

“Just because you lose in the quarter-finals, it doesn’t mean you are a bad or average team. 

“The key thing is that they have got the whole country and Irish people across the world cheering for them. They are spreading joy wherever they go.”

Howe was speaking at Howden’s Big Rugby Day Out at Oxford University Rugby Club, where youth players from seven Lions Origin Clubs took part in a festival of rugby that included training sessions with British & Irish Lions icon Jason Robinson.

There are 711 Lions Origins Clubs, those that have played a role in the career of a Lion, with new principal partner of the British & Irish Lions Howden set to present each with a commemorative plaque as part of its commitment to the grassroots game.

Howe was guest of honour at the event, which also saw former Lions captain Gavin Hastigs and England legend Maggie Alphonsi also in attendance, with the ex-Oxford University captain recognised for his selection on the 2001 British & Irish Lions Tour of Australia and was enthused to see clubs have their efforts recognised.

“It was exactly this setting and the grassroots clubs that are here today, that is where I started,” Howe added. 

“I was playing mini rugby at a local club, with local volunteers, that is exactly where I started and I feel at home in this environment. 

“For all the glory of international rugby and Lions rugby, this is the heart of rugby, local communities, learning good values and building solid friendships.

“It is an amazing sport. I think it is really important that we protect the grassroots and it is great that the likes of Howden are supporting it and putting money into it. 

“If you are only about your top end, you run the risk of losing your soul. Grassroots rugby is the soul of rugby.”

As part of their partnership with The British & Irish Lions, Howden will be supporting the grassroots game