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Fitzgerald fails to get a look in as bid for glory looms

By Niall Crozier

LUKE Fitzgerald, the surprise omission from Declan Kidney’s Irish World Cup party last autumn, has missed out again.

Fitzgerald was not in the Ireland training squad named for the 2012 RBS 6 Nations; instead he finds in the second-string Wolfhounds.

Centre and talismanic captain Brian O’Driscoll and Munster back row forward Denis Leamy are the only two of the 24 who lost to Wales in the 2011 World Cup quarter-finals not included. Both are injured.

O’Driscoll will miss the whole series following surgery to his shoulder and with Fitzgerald having regained his form following that World Cup snub he, Keith Earls, Tommy Bowe or Fergus McFadden were believed to be in the hunt for the absent skipper’s number 13 jersey.

So too was Ulster's Darren Cave — but he is now sidelined for six weeks after suffering a foot ligament injury in last Friday night’s Ravenhill rout of Leicester Tigers.

The Ireland squad does, however, include the five Ulster players who were part of last autumn’s World Cup panel, with Rory Best, Tom Court, Stephen Ferris, Andrew Trimble and Paddy Wallace retained.

In addition, Paddy McAllister has been called up as one of six additional, uncapped players included in the hope of bedding them into the international scene.

But contrary to hopes, Ulster lock Dan Tuohy and back row forward Chris Henry have not made the senior group. They are named in the Wolfhounds, as is centre Nevin Spence.

Scrum-half Paul Marshall has not made that party, however. He has been in superb form for Ulster, the most recent occasion being last Friday night’s cameo performance when, having come off the bench for the final 15 minutes, he scored an audacious bonus point-clinching try against Leicester with Ireland coach Declan Kidney watching on. Nor is there a place for winger Craig Gilroy, another of Ulster’s try-scorers in the 41-7 blitz of the Aviva Premiership giants.

Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin expressed his disappointment that the 24-plus-six-man senior squad and the 22-strong Wolfhounds line-up had not included more of his players.

“I think if you look at the squads they’ve been fairly conservative,” he said.

His observation on learning that Marshall had not been called up was: “Certainly from my point of view I’m a little bit disappointed that Paul’s not involved.”

Outside the Ulster quintet the breakdown of the senior squad is 12 Leinster players and six from Munster plus Wales-based Tommy Bowe of Ospreys. Of the six additional, experience-gathering players, three are from Munster with each of the other three provinces providing an extra representative to the panel.

Explaining his motives in naming his senior squad and hopes for the forthcoming RBS 6 Nations Championship, Kidney highlighted the quality of Irish provinces in the Heineken Cup.

Already Munster and Leinster have qualified for the quarter-finals having won Pools 1 and 3 respectively, while Ulster head Pool 4 going into the final weekend of group-stage fixtures.

“There have been some strong performances by players with the provinces going really well,” said Kidney.

“It always gives the squad a good boost when we have teams with players playing well in Europe before we step back up into the international scene.”

And looking forward to the championship in which Ireland open their 2012 account with an Aviva Stadium game against Wales on Sunday, February 5, the coach added: “It’s a new tournament for us and for everybody involved, so irrespective of the highs and lows of the World Cup, it is a fresh and exciting challenge for us.

“The tournament begins what is a big year for us with a three-Test tour to New Zealand to come in June and ranking points all-important for the Rugby World Cup in 2015.

“But the Six Nations always stands out as high point.”

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