Ireland captain Rory Best has given the clearest signal yet that he will retire from international rugby after this autumn’s World Cup campaign in Japan.
Best, 36, is set to play his final home Six Nations match at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday when Ireland face France, 13 years on from his championship debut against Wales in February 2006.
It will be the hooker’s 63rd game in the tournament and 116th Ireland appearance and the hooker, a British & Irish Lions tourist in 2013 and 2017, confirmed it will be his last competitive home game for his country before bowing out alongside departing head coach Joe Schmidt in Japan later this year.
"I think it's fairly certain that the World Cup will be the end for me. I feel really good and I don't feel that I'm playing any worse,” Best said following Ireland’s captain’s run training session at the Aviva on Saturday.
"And I think part of the reason that I'm enjoying rugby so much and playing - well I hope playing well - is because of that weight lifted off - I think when you're playing you start to get fixated with what's coming.
“If you play well in the Six Nations you put yourself in the window for the World Cup and you get to the World Cup and you think ‘oh two more Six Nations and you're in the window to a Lions tour’ and you start to get all bogged down with things that don't really matter.
“And I'm feeling very relaxed now that the body feels that it's happy to go on at the minute and mentally I'm really, really enjoying the rugby and I'm in the really lucky position that the way I'm feeling at the minute I feel I can go to the World Cup and be at the top of my game.
“And for me the way I'm feeling at the minute that will be a really good time for me to....plus Joe said he didn't want me going without him.”
Best, who will turn 37 in August, said sentiment surrounding his final Six Nations home game could wait and that his duty as Ireland captain was the priority tomorrow, though he had thought about the moment.
"I suppose in the early part of my career, I thought that every home game was going to be my last home Six Nations game! It's something I haven't really given a whole lot of thought to, but it has been in the back of my mind that this will be my last home Six Nations game.
"With the World Cup coming up and having aspirations to play, you hope that my last game for Ireland isn't going to be until the very start of November.
"Now that we're upon this, the captain's run, being out there with the sun shining for the first time this week, it just reminded me how special this championship has been, for me personally, but also to be able to do captain's runs, play out there, pull on that jersey in the Six Nations.
"It's been incredibly special for me and it's very hard to believe that in just over 24 hours, you'll potentially not get that opportunity again to play in a Six Nations here.
"It's a little bit sad but you also have to understand how incredibly lucky and special it's been, and how lucky I've been to play for Ireland in so many Six Nations games.
"Especially with this group, when we perform, we win games by and large, and I think if I make it into something other than that, I'm not doing a service to how I feel rugby should be played in the team environment, but also my duty as a captain.
"We'll get time after the game to spend time with the family but, for me, it's about this group of players really showing the strength of character we have and taking a big step forward together in the way we commit to the game plan and the way we have a presence about the way we attack."