French captain Fabien Pelous, who becomes only the fifth player to reach 100 caps, won't be the only splendid antique on show when he leads his team against RBS Six Nations leaders Ireland in Dublin on Saturday.

As well as an accomplished, hard-headed XV led by Brian O'Driscoll, Ireland will parade the most atmospheric venue in world rugby. With its echoing stands and giant open banking, Lansdowne Road is the last of the old-fashioned international rugby stadiums, retaining a quality that other grounds have lost in the past two decades with redevelopment into all-seater venues.

It is not to every taste. One Irish columnist has called it an "embarrassing hovel". But those large standing areas give Lansdowne Road its uniquely vivid atmosphere, generating noise, immediacy and a sense of the crowd as a collectivity, not an assembly of atomised individuals. It is a ground for fans, not for corporate guests - a character underlined by the sight of Roy Keane, football's best known critic of prawn-sandwich consumers, in the crowd for Ireland's victory over England.

But what makes it superior as a rugby venue to Twickenham, Murrayfield or the Millennium Stadium is also its fatal weakness. As a generator of income it is not in the same class. The Irish Rugby Football Union reckon to make around €2m (£1.35m) from a 48,000 capacity crowd. Murrayfield, smallest of the other home nation grounds, can generate a good £1m more. In modern professional sport atmosphere versus income is a contest whose outcome is rarely in doubt.

So, if all goes to plan - and a planning permission still to be secured - the next Six Nations season will be the last for the old ground. In its place will rise a €300m all-seater, 50,000 capacity stadium with the requisite corporate facilities.

The Irish government will fund two-thirds of the project, with the Football Association of Ireland chipping in around €35m. The IRFU isn't saying how much income it will generate per match, but it is a safe bet those numbers will be much closer to Murrayfield or the Millennium Stadium than to current Lansdowne Road turnover.

For two years Irish rugby will need a new home. An IRFU spokesman says :"We will be seeking temporary accommodation with a minimum 50,000 capacity. If that isn't available in Ireland, we will go elsewhere".

The important word is "available". There is such a ground in Dublin, the Gaelic Athletic Association's Croke Park, which holds 80,000. The stumbling block is the GAA's ban on hosting games associated with former British rule - either, according to taste, fealty to a proud nationalist tradition or outdated prejudice.

This ban, like the prohibition on GAA members having anything to do with the "garrison games" dropped in the early 1970s, occasions continuous debate within gaelic sport. The IRFU is studiously neutral on the matter, saying : "This is an internal matter for the GAA".

It will though certainly be interested in the outcome of the GAA's annual meeting next month, featuring another debate on the ban and a presidential election in which one candidate has argued that it should be reconsidered.

But wherever that two-year hiatus may take them - a flight to London or Cardiff, or merely a bus ride to north Dublin - Irish fans watching on Saturday will be aware of more than possibly the trickiest step yet on their pursuit of the championship against a French team that rediscovered something of itself, even as it lost the match, against Wales in Paris.

Those with a sense of history - generally an Irish attribute - know that something different, distinctive and irreplaceable will soon be lost.

Get alerts on Western Europe when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window) CommentsJump to comments section

Comments have not been enabled for this article.

Follow the topics in this article