For some in the Ireland rugby team, these could be the last days in Rome
Kidney’s future is in doubt and this may be Brian O’Driscoll’s final game for Ireland
As dead rubbers go there could be plenty at stake here. The sun in the Roman air, a capacity Olympic Stadium and while both are out of the title running, Ireland can finish anywhere from third to sixth and Italy from fourth to sixth. And as impression is everything, that could go some way to determining a few futures.
For starters, the future of Declan Kidney and the rest of the coaching ticket, although contracted up to and including the summer to the Americas, is likely to be resolved within the next few weeks. Today’s proceedings, though distinctly secondary to the title shoot-out in Cardiff, may also contribute to some Lions’ selections.
There is also the increasingly possibility that this could be Brian O'Driscoll’s last game in the most stellar of Irish Test careers, what with the first of two testimonial dinner taking place in London on Monday night, and the emotional presence of his family last week.
Yesterday’s pre-match build-up had begun with Andrea Lo Cicero, who last week overtook Alesandro Troncon as Italy’s most capped player with 102 caps, duly confirming his retirement at the end of the season at an emotional press conference. This prompted the first of two rounds of applause from the media, while a tribute from Sergio Parisse also forced a few tears from the loosehead prop before Parisse vowed that this will provide further motivation for the Azzurri.
There were no tears at the ensuing Irish press conference in the Stadio Olimpico, but although O’Driscoll’s playing future hasn’t been discussed much within the squad, there’s an awareness that this might be a landmark and poignant day in what will be his 60th championship game.
“We all grow and having seen Brian at the early stage of his career and the prodigious talent that he was to the legend that he is now, I was fortunate to be around to see it,” said Anthony Foley. “An excellent team-mate, an excellent man to coach, he’s as hard as nails, he’s a privilege to have in your squad and I don’t think you’d ever take it for granted when you’ve guys like that in your squad. You cherish them when you have them because you’ll be a long time missing them."
As an aside, Foley also confirmed that Jonny Sexton’s torn foot tendon could sideline him for four to six weeks. Aside from meaning Leinster have lost both of their first choice halfbacks at a key juncture of the season it means he won't have any more game time before the Lions’ squad is announced. One imagines though that he is one of the few for whom that oughtn’t to affect his selection.