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Leinster boss O'Connor praises bionic man Fitzgerald


Fitness first: Luke Fitzgerald has been plagued by injury

Fitness first: Luke Fitzgerald has been plagued by injury

©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Fitness first: Luke Fitzgerald has been plagued by injury

Leinster manager Matt O'Connor has outlined the amount of work Luke Fitzgerald needs to do to prolong his rugby career.

The Australian has named the Ireland back at outside centre for tonight's pivotal meeting with Harlequins, but admitted he always needs a contingency plan when it comes to the 27-year-old.

Fitzgerald has struggled with an abductor/groin injury for the last year, following knee and shoulder problems that have severely restricted his playing time.

His coach revealed that the 2009 Lion needs an hour's work before he can take to the field to train or play and described the achievement of continuing to play to the level he does as "unbelievable".

"It's about Luke playing regularly," he said. "There is no doubt about the talent, if fit. He has proven he is Lions standard, he is world class, he's in the Test side, he's starting for us. It's just getting him back involved.

"The thing most people don't realise is he's spending an hour before every rugby session to get himself right to train. The nature of the injury is such that he doesn't get to do as much rugby training as possible.

"It's unbelievable that he plays at the standard that he has played so far this year. The amount of rugby time he is doing is significantly limited.

"Full credit to him, he's a fantastic player. He works incredibly hard to get himself right. Off the back of that, he deserves a little bit of luck. Hopefully he can get through Saturday and can continue to be available to play games for us."

Leinster will need to have Brendan Macken on standby at the Aviva Stadium tonigght given Fitzgferald's recent propensity to pull out during the warm-up.

"The nature of the injury is that there is a cloud that goes with it," O'Connor conceded. "That's something that the group has to manage. Put him over that line and you know he'll do a job for you.

"As I said there, with limited prep, rounds one and two of Europe because of the nature of the squad and because we were short, he played 80 minutes in Castres in our first hit out.

"The bloke sitting next to me (Jamie Heaslip) and one or two others in the world would be capable of that."

While losing Gordon D'Arcy means Leinster lose a pillar of their defence, the selection of Fitzgerald in the No13 jersey opens up some exciting attacking opportunities.

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"The more times you get the ball to Lukey, the more chance he has of creating something and that's the outlet that he is and the skill-set that he possesses," O'Connor acknowledged.

"So to have him one channel closer to the ball is positive, you want your most attacking, dangerous weapons to have the ball.

"There's positives for us in that regard, that you've got Luke in that channel encourages us to play into that space.

"There are upsides to it on a big, firm track, it's a positive to have somebody with the ability to break tackles and beat defenders.

"Darce is brilliant. He's played that much top end rugby, he's a great organiser and talker in defence, and gives the guys around him great composure in that position.

"Luke has played a lot of top-class rugby as well so the dynamic is a little bit different from wing to '13' but he's a great athlete. He's not going to be caught out athletically, and he's not going to be caught in relation to where he puts himself. So from that end we'll solve it."

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