Published 08/03/2014 | 19:25
Ireland can face down history and sweep to RBS 6 Nations title glory in Paris next weekend, according to Brian O'Driscoll.
Stalwart centre O'Driscoll brought down 15 years of international rugby in Dublin by sparking Ireland's 46-7, seven-try hammering of Italy on Saturday.
The 35-year-old created three of Ireland's tries as the hosts overwhelmed the Azzurri to set up a potential title decider against France next Saturday.
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt hailed O'Driscoll as the "final bastion" of creative centre play.
The British and Irish Lion set a new world-record Test appearance tally of 140 and a new 64-turn Six Nations mark to boot, and admitted he was "embarrassed" by all the attention.
O'Driscoll's stunning hat-trick guided Ireland to their sole Paris victory in 42 years in 2000: now he believes Schmidt's men can return to that scene and steal the Six Nations crown.
"I couldn't have asked for a better close to playing at home in an Irish jersey," said the Leinster midfielder.
"To score 46 points and only concede one try, it really made the day what it was.
"I'll remember that for a very long, long time.
"I got emotional at the end; it was hard to take it all in.
"I think maybe when I go back and maybe look over it again, I'll probably get more emotional then.
"But it was very, very special, if a little embarrassing, but it was still great.
"I feel we have the capability to win there of course, more so now than many of the other times we've gone over there.
"But we realise just how tough a challenge it is.
"We've won once there in 42 years, one win and one draw.
"We realise the size of the challenge, but we feel as though when we go well we're a difficult team to contain.
"So we just have to get ourselves up for one massive performance."
O'Driscoll teed up both Johnny Sexton's tries, and the score for Andrew Trimble.
As he stepped off the field on the hour-mark, to a man the Aviva Stadium rose to acclaim the icon's last Dublin turn in international colours.
O'Driscoll will retire in the summer, and is confident he will do so with Ireland in better fettle than ever.
"I think it was nice to be able to have involvements in important moments in the game," he said.
"I take as much satisfaction in setting up tries as scoring them, I have to these days, I don't tend to get too many myself any more.
"The second half performance in particular, we did a lot of great work from the first half tiring them out.
"We played with a lot of ball, and that's where we got our just rewards in the second half.
"Since the All Blacks game we've really created a great atmosphere, and off the back of the performance there that's instilled confidence in the crowd.
"I think that's important and hopefully we can hold onto that.
"It was great, special because it was the last one and you have to take it on its own for what it was.
"But a really great point was made that it was a semi-final for us, because there would be nothing afterwards if we didn't win.
"We had a really good win today, and we've put ourselves in position for a final.
"We need certain combinations to happen next week, but at least we're the last team to play and we'll know what we need to do.
"Hopefully we'll go and win in France - and that will be enough."
Ireland boss Schmidt confirmed Conor Murray was withdrawn in the opening exchanges after feeling unwell.
Italy said initial examination indicated tighthead prop Martin Castrogiovanni had not suffered fractures to his heavily-bruised ribs.
Italy head coach Jacques Brunel tipped Ireland to win the championship in Paris, while also conceding his side suffered their worst reverse in his tenure.
"I think Ireland can win the tournament because they have great continuity in their performance," he said.
"They are showing this over many games, like the All Blacks in November and even against England despite the defeat.
"From a result point of view, this is our worst performance in my time.
"But in the first half we showed good defence, and we had some good possession.
"In the second half Ireland kept the ball, and our defence wasn't as competitive as in the first half."