‘He can do everything except change direction and run flat out’ – Matt O’Connor on Fitzgerald

WHEN YOU MAKE a career out of sprinting past wings and beating fullbacks in tight spaces with footwork that you would see at Coppers, you don’t want to be in the position that Luke Fitzgerald finds himself in at the moment.

Fizgerald hasn’t played a great deal for Leinster over the last two years but what is more frustrating is that every cameo – like Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder – is a reminder to everyone of how devastating he can be.

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Three years ago, a routine weekend for Fitzgerald featured tries like this.

Source: VicMackey0/YouTube

Sadly, now his career can be boiled down to last weekend’s trip to Treviso where he pulled out before kick-off as a ‘precautionary measure’. Matt O’Connor spoke about Fitzgerald’s current health today and how they thought his injuries had cleared up before last weekend.

“The only bloke who is more sick about talking about this than me is Luke but I’ll tell you,” O’Connor said.

When you here that description it doesn’t sound all bad – hey, he trained all last week, maybe it was just a precaution. But then O’Connor elaborated and despite the coach’s optimism, it doesn’t sound very promising for Fitzgerald.

“He can do everything except change direction and run flat out,” O’Connor said.

“He showed that as soon as that is fine, he can play good rugby for us. There isn’t anyone in our environment who works harder than he does and nobody wants to play more than he does. It would not be a shock at all for him to be available.”

Saying a wing can do everything except sprint and sidestep is like saying an outhalf can do everything except kick the ball – it’s good that the other parts of his game are in good nick but without the unique qualities that make him great, he is operating at significantly below his capacity.

But there is good news on the injury front too for Leinster. Dave Kearney and Jordi Murphy returned last week and Fergus McFadden is back in the starting line-up to face the Ospreys this Saturday evening at the RDS.

Kearney was on the score-sheet in the disappointing 24-24 draw in Italy last week (54 seconds in the video) and O’Connor is delighted to be welcoming back some key men rather than wheeling in another gurney

Source: PRO12 Rugby/YouTube

“He [Kearney] was fantastic for us last year,” O’Connor said.

“He was starting for Ireland and he was doing a fantastic job. That class that you get is important. And with Jordi Murphy and Ferg back, it gives us options and a bit more presence as a squad.”

There has been a revolving door at 13 so far this season for Leinster with injury and form meaning O’Connor is yet to nail down a long-term replacement for Brian O’Driscoll. It is Fergus McFadden’s turn this week and O’Connor talked about the qualities that he brings to the outside centre position.

“We are looking at options there,” O’Connor said.

“We know today who our best 13 is but that is relative to who is available to us. From that end it is a little bit frustrating. When you lose a player of Brian’s class who had been here for so long you are going to have issues in and around the position.

“Ferg [Fergus McFadden] has played there a lot, his abrasiveness in the channel and his desire to put his body on the line is unquestionable. The thinking was relative to a few bodies missing in that position that we needed to play some physical rugby.”

There was a little bit of a Robbie Henshaw to Leinster whisper going around this week and Leinster forwards coach Leo Cullen didn’t pour water over it earlier in the week. When asked about the possibility today, O’Connor’s reply was succinct.

“Thanks gents,” he laughed before getting up to end the press conference.

Guess, we will be waiting a little longer on that one.

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