JAMIE HEASLIP has described "iconic" Brian O'Driscoll as his generation's Jonah Lomu and said he wants to give the retiring centre a fairytale ending with a Six Nations title.
O'Driscoll (35) will break George Gregan's record to become the most capped player in rugby history in his 140th international today against Italy – his final game for Ireland on home soil.
Ireland sit on top of the table on points difference after three games and a big win over the Azzurri would put them in a commanding position ahead of the grand finale in Paris next weekend.
Vice-captain Heaslip has labelled the penultimate game of this year's tournament against Italy as a "semi-final" and, while he wants to give O'Driscoll a good home send-off this afternoon, he reckons winning the championship by beating France at the venue where the 35-year-old scored his famous hat-trick in 2000 would be the perfect way for him to sign off.
"I suppose the fairytale would be nice," he said of winning the Clontarf's native's final home game.
"I mean, you're probably not human if you can't relate to that. It would be a nice story.
"I think it would be an even nicer story if we were going over to France and winning the Six Nations where, I suppose, he landed.
"I think that's a nicer story but to get there Mick (Kearney, Ireland manager) addressed it really nicely saying it was like a semi-final for us.
"There's nothing after this game and that's why there's no point in thinking about points difference.
"So let's just worry about winning and playing our game plan and if it evolves and happens and we get opportunities, we take them, but otherwise we play to win.
"But yeah, the romantic in me thinks it would be a nice story obviously to send him off."
Yesterday's captain's run at Lansdowne Road threw up no fresh injury concerns for Joe Schmidt, who made just one change to the team that lost to England, with Iain Henderson taking over from the injured Peter O'Mahony.
The coach will do everything he can to maintain his team's focus for this weekend, but all eyes in the stand will be straining for a final glimpse of O'Driscoll in a green jersey on home soil.
There will be no getting away from the centre of attention and Heaslip was asked to sum up his retiring team-mate's contribution to the game.
"I had to do two different videos this week in terms of montages different people are preparing for Brian, and they were trying to sum him up in one word. It was wrecking my head trying to think of something that would sum him up," he said.
"But I just said '13'. When you think of Brian O'Driscoll, you think of 13, you think of an icon in the sport. These kind of characters only come around every so often.
"You can go into how great he is as a professional player and all that but if you really think of it these kind of characters only come around every so often.
"When my generation watched rugby it was Jonah Lomu. For an entire generation Brian is Jonah Lomu – that is how I look at it.
"I'm just lucky that I have been able to play with him for eight years and win amazing things with Brian, playing at the top level you can play at, Lions tour Test games.
"If you asked me when I started playing if I was going to do that with Brian O'Driscoll I'd have said no, and to be play with someone as iconic as him when he has played amazing through the years, it's amazing. You have to pinch yourself a little thinking about it.
"To sum it up I would just say 13, O'Driscoll 13."