at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Paris – Ireland can give their rugby icon Brian O'Driscoll the perfect end to his Test career with a rare victory in Paris over France next Saturday and with it probably the Six Nations title.
In a thrilling denouement to the Northern Hemisphere rugby competition – which may lack the finesse of their southern rivals' Four Nations but wants not for excitement Ä three countries go into the final round of matches capable of taking the crown that was Wales's for the last two years.
Ireland, France and England are all on six points but the Irish hold the upper hand in terms of a far superior points difference of +49 over the English, while the latter have a superior points difference of +29 over the French.
Even with the English playing an Italy side – their match sets the ball rolling – that caved in in the face of some inspired play by O'Driscoll and his team-mates on Saturday, it is unlikely they will redress the difference.
It will be left to France to see off the Irish – although a third successive draw between the two sides cannot be discounted – in the final game of the day and hand the trophy to England.
The signs are that the Irish, who have become much more positive since coach Joe Schmidt brought in sports psychologist Enda McNulty last year, will start as favourites for only their second win in Paris in 42 years.
If indeed it proves to be the case it will be a fitting end to O'Driscoll's career.
It was at a sun-drenched Stade de France in 2000, appropriately then as this time on the St Patrick's weekend, that the then 21-year-old gave notice of his world class talent with three tries as they pulled off a famous victory.
O'Driscoll, who will bow out with a world record 141 caps, said he felt the Irish possessed the talent and experience to beat the French.
“I feel we have the capabilities now of winning in Paris of course, more so now than other times we've gone over there,” said the 35-year-old, who if Ireland win will become the record-holder for Five/Six Nations match wins with 45 while he is already the record try scorer.
“But I realise how tough a challenge it is – we've won once there in 42 years, it's one win, and one draw in 42.
“We realise the size of the challenge, but we feel when we go well, we're difficult to contain, so we have to get ourselves up for one massive performance.”
Few in France hold out much hope of the French doing their bitter historical rivals England a favour in defeating the Irish with the media giving head coach Philippe Saint-Andre a hiding.
French sports daily 'L'Equipe' ran three pages on the parlous state of the national side on Monday with a front page photograph of Saint-Andre with the headline 'Who is running the French team?' and added it appeared to be totally 'rudderless'.
Saint-Andre, though, insists the character his side has shown in clinging on when behind against both England and Scotland and winning the two matches in the final couple of minutes would serve them well.
“There are days where nothing is more important than the win itself, not the way it is achieved,” said the 46-year-old.
“Last year from time to time the performances were very good but we couldn't win.
“Now we are winning and the players are smiling at the end of the match. One shouldn't complain, one should be positive.”
Many observers including England's 2003 World Cup winning coach Clive Woodward believe, though, a lot of France's problems would be resolved if Saint-Andre restored the halfback partnership that has produced some of France's best rugby over the past seven years:
fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc and scrum-half Morgan Parra.
But for the late score by France, England would be looking at the Grand Slam.
However, the modest England coach Stuart Lancaster can at least content himself with the Triple Crown. Lancaster, whose previous two Six Nations as England coach have seen the team finish runners-up to Wales, accepted the title odds were stacked against his men.
“Ireland are a quality side,” he said.
“But France on their day at home, with something to play for – who knows?
“But we can't control that, we're first up.
“We've got a proud Italian side to play against who gave us a hard time two years ago and gave us a hard time last year at Twickenham.” – Sapa-AFP