Latching onto the ball after a magnificent surge from Peter Stringer, Jamie Heaslip seals the deal for Grand Slam chasing Ireland.

Latching onto the ball after a magnificent surge from Peter Stringer, Jamie Heaslip seals the deal for Grand Slam chasing Ireland.

The toughest days in any job are usually the ones that prove the most rewarding.

Put such an assertion to 100 rugby players and the overwhelming majority will choose attrition and graft over 80 easy, one-sided minutes. For victory in such circumstances tastes infinitely sweeter.

After the match, you sit down with your team-mates, your friends, your brothers, men you’d die for; on the one road, sharing the load.

You share times both good and bad, but you live for the good times. It’s what piling into a ruck is all about; it’s why you drag each other out of the mud every weekend.

It’s what wearing the jersey is all about. It’s the greatest feeling in sport, one of the greatest feelings in life.

That night, you’ll raise and glass, share a smile, pat many a back and reflect on a job well done, a result hard earned. Before too long you’ll raise another glass, throw in the odd bar of a song before making for home and thinking about the next match.

Euphoria is only experienced through sinew-straining, gut-busting, lung emptying effort.

You never get to feel that wondrous adrenaline rush without lining up and converting that vital drop goal, without darting 60 yards cross-pitch to make a try saving tackle, without producing a match-turning moment of inspiration.

In other years and in other circumstances, every Irishman that wore the green in Murrayfield last Saturday would have been entitled to bathe in euphoria’s welcome waters. But that shall have to wait for another day.

That other day, should the rugby gods shine in Ireland’s favour, could well be this Saturday in the Millennium Stadium when Declan Kidney’s men chase Grand Slam, Championship and Triple Crown glory.

Barring something cataclysmic, Ireland will win the Championship. Given how well Ireland have defended in the Championship to date, it is difficult next to impossible to see Wales winning by 14 points in Cardiff.

Had Warren Gatland made retaining the RBS trophy his be all and end all, he would have fielded a stronger team in Rome and would surely have overseen a 15 to 20 point victory.

With a squad not nearly as strong as he may have thought, Wales scraped home by five, their dream of a second successive Championship all but dust-bitten.

Sport being sport, there is always a possibility that a wounded Welsh team could ignite and send Ireland every which way, but applying logic and rationale to the debate makes such a scenario highly unlikely.

Next Saturday is a cup final for Kidney, and the venue couldn’t be more appropriate. It’s all part of the karma that seems to have enveloped this group of players and the management team since round one against the French.

Kidney had to lose a final in the Millennium Stadium before lifting silverware inside the same venue, arguably the union game’s greatest arena.

Last May with his beloved Munster, Kidney repeated the European trick, his team playing in a manner which suggested they never, ever countenanced defeat.

Victory over Toulouse was their destiny. They were not to be denied. And so it proved. It wasn’t pretty, said the critics. So what, the players replied. “I don’t care, I’ve a medal in my arse pocket,” said Donncha O’Callaghan. Too right.

Ronan O’Gara (who, according to ex-Scottish player Sean Lineen “couldn’t tackle a fish supper”) struck a destiny-sounding note after last Saturday’s hard-earned win over Scotland.

“We were never going to lose this game,” said the fly-half who despite being “not himself” wrote one weekend scribe, still scored 17 points and became the Championship’s all-time leading scorer in the process.

And even during the hairier moments of last Saturday’s match, it was difficult to escape that same defiant sentiment.

This is an Irish team bruised by too many what might have beens. This is an Irish team that’s given us more great days over a sustained period in our rugby history than any before it.

This is an Irish team desperate for a first Grand Slam in 61 years, desperate for that first Championship in two dozen years. Surely that desire, surely that determination, surely that hunger is going to see Ireland over the finishing line on Saturday night.

On Sunday afternoon, just before England dismantled Jekyll and Hyde’s XV (aka France), RTE re-ran something worth re-running.

No, it wasn’t another Columbo episode thankfully – it was instead the 1985 Five Nations meeting of Wales and Ireland in Cardiff Arms Park.

Just like some young rugby fans who consider winning in Murrayfield as a piece of cake for the men in green, Ireland’s great record in Cardiff wasn’t always so.

The ‘give it a lash’ men coached by the late, great Mick Doyle were the first Irish team to win in the Welsh capital since 1967. Keith Crossan scored his first test try that day, while his Ulster colleague Trevor Ringland did what he did best on the other wing.

Endeavour and flair saw Ireland through that day, but one suspects that different elements might do the trick next weekend.

Stephen Ferris has not gained the headlines that some of his team-mates have this season, but his commitment to the cause sums up the collective effort of Ireland in 2009.

His display in Murrayfield was his best yet, ploughing through the opposition sod, guarding the ball through several gruelling phases while knocking Scots over like a human wrecking ball.

Ferris looks a shoo-in for a starting slot in the British and Irish Lions back-row, and it’s not inconceivable that both David Wallace and Jamie Heaslip may partner him in South Africa.

With the maturity of a veteran and the vitality of youth, Ferris is set for a garlanded career in the back row and Kidney will need more of the same from him in Cardiff. One suspects he’ll let no-one down.

Credit too is also due to the marvellous Peter Stringer, a man reborn having faced down the sort of challenges that would have punctured the confidence of a lesser man.

The scrum-half’s match-winning surge which put Jamie Heaslip away for the game’s decisive try was the sort of moment destined to decide so close an encounter.

His quicker ball and power passing surely means Stringer must start against Wales – and another good display will surely draw him into contention for a first Lions trip.

Be it Brian O’Driscoll and Tommy Bowe flinging themselves into tackles, be it Ronan O’Gara off the boot, and be it the fully-functional scrum and lineout, the good ship Ireland looks decidedly steady.

Sailing towards their destiny, surely Ireland will get the job done next Saturday. The waters of euphoria await after what will surely prove another tough day at the office. Immortality awaits.