The Ireland captain, Paul O’Connell, is considering retiring after the World Cup, a tournament he believes the Six Nations champions, who defeated South Africa and Australia last month, have the ability to win.
O’Connell will be 36 the week before the World Cup final on 31 October. He has been playing international rugby for 12 years and is four caps short of his century for Ireland. He has also played in seven Lions Tests.
“I don’t really know how long I can keep on going for,” said the second row. “I want to play in the World Cup and be in the best shape possible but I am still undecided if I will play on after the tournament.
“It is something that plays on my mind a little bit. I don’t dread the day but I don’t think it was ever my intention to keep on playing this long. I certainly won’t be putting my hand up for Lions selection in 2017. I’ll be long gone from the game by then, believe me.”
Ireland are looking to retain the home championship title outright for the first time since 1949 having established themselves as the leading team in Europe under their New Zealand coach Joe Schmidt.
“Joe is an excellent coach and an excellent strategist,” O’Connell said. “He is a brilliant communicator too. We are all trying to do the same things on the rugby field but Joe is able to simplify it and able to get players into the right places on the field where they can use their skillset. It is brilliant working with him: you learn something new every training session.
“We certainly have a chance in the World Cup. We have shown we can beat anyone on our day. We still don’t have the strength in depth of the southern hemisphere nations, so there are certain things that will have to go our way, but I think we have the potential to win it.
“We have made really good progress and put a great foundation in place, but there is not one Six Nations team who have not got better. We have to keep improving.”
The France and Toulon centre Mathieu Bastareaud is also considering retirement after his club’s 30-6 defeat to Stade Français on Sunday, a result that saw the Paris side take over from the champions at the head of the Top 14 table.
“You have to know how to face up to things,” said Bastareaud, who was on the bench for France’s three autumn internationals last month. “Since the beginning of the season I haven’t been able to find my form. I’m a zombie. I think that now I’ve come to the end of the road. There comes a time when you have to say stop!”