Deposed Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll has dropped a bombshell on the eve of the Six Nations by hinting that this 13th championship campaign could be the last for his country.
O'Driscoll, whose contract with the IRFU expires next summer and has not yet been renewed, has publicly expressed his disappointment at being replaced as Irish captain and he could now be ready to hang up his boots this summer after the Lions tour to Australia.
O'Driscoll, who recently turned 34, is Ireland's record caps holder (120) and try scorer (45), but he has previously only suggested that he would not extend his career to the next World Cup, in 2015.
He is still anxious to secure an extension to his IRFU contract, but he has now revealed for the first time that he may be willing to fast-forward his retirement date.
“There's every chance (it could be my last Six Nations),” he said.
“I haven't really allowed myself to think about finishing. If you start deciding early, you're one foot into retirement already.
“So, I haven't really allowed myself to think about it. I am contracted until the summer. I'll see that out and then I'll see how the body feels.
“But there's a strong possibility that this could be the last.”
O'Driscoll is still regarded as a leading contender to captain the Lions this summer as he begins his latest Six Nations campaign in partnership with Gordon D'Arcy for a record 49th time in international Tests when Ireland take on Wales in Cardiff on Saturday.
Conor Murray has warned Welsh giants Alex Cuthbert and George North that Ireland's less imposing wings will withstand the brutish assault they can expect at the Millennium Stadium.
A daunting physical mismatch awaits Ulster’s Craig Gilroy and Munster’s Simon Zebo in Saturday's Six Nations opener with both players conceding at least three inches and two and a half stones to their adversaries.
In experience terms they are also trailing, possessing only four caps between them and making their championship debuts while Cuthbert and North have accumulated 29 Test appearances.
Evening the odds, however, are their pace and finishing skills in what should be fascinating duels between players of contrasting styles all capable of winning a place on the Lions tour.
And while Gilroy and Zebo are famed for their slippery running, Murray has dashed Welsh hopes that they will wilt defensively.
“Craig and Simon are lethal finishers and are the type of players who can pull out a piece of magic from nowhere,” the Munster scrum-half said.
“They have the ability to get us going, put us on the front foot and light up a game.
“If it's Cuthbert and North they're up against, it will be a huge physical challenge.
“We'll have to make our first up tackles and I don't think Zeebs and Gilroy will shy away from that. It's not just because of their attacking abilities that they are in the team.”