10 Dec, 12:23
Ireland's John Lacey will referee his first ever RBS 6 Nations while Alain Rolland is also included in the Elite Panel in what is his last season.
"I think the pre-season has been great. The rest the 15 players (from the Six Nations) got by not going to Argentina shows - they are way ahead of where they would be otherwise and they are ahead of the others," O'Donovan revealed.
"The other 30 players are working hard to get to their standard and catching up fast. The 15 are setting the standard though and have got it to a standard where they weren't before."
The former Shannon and Munster number eight has been afforded plenty of time to work with the Ireland forwards, adding: "We have had two scrummaging camps already. The first involved the eight (forwards) who did not go to Argentina. That worked well and two weeks ago at another scrum camp we had two packs in. Tomorrow (Friday) we will have three packs and we will just rotate them."
Also at today's press conference were Ireland defence coach Graham Steadman and skills coach Brian McLaughlin. The pair were asked to comment on the recent Tri Nations tournament which New Zealand, the World Cup favourites, won.
"I wasn't too concerned about watching it. We know what the Southern Hemisphere teams are capable of and I'm just concentrating on our squad," insisted Steadman.
McLaughlin admitted: "New Zealand still set the pace but I think Australia showed that the All Blacks can be beaten."