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Six Nations: Luke Fitzgerald can rest easy next time

By Niall Crozier

Luke Fitzgerald admits he barely slept a wink before Saturday’s great Irish escape against Italy.

fitzGERALD HAS PROVEd HIS CLASSGive us a break: after his solid display against Italy (left), Luke Fitzgerald hopes he will get another chance to team up with Keith Earls (top) and Fergus McFadden (above) in the back three against France on Sunday

But he can rest easier now, hoping that he and wing pair Fergus McFadden and Keith Earls will be given further opportunites to prove themselves following last weekend’s first outing together at 15, 14 and 11 respectively.

Previously Ireland saw the affable Fitzgerald as an out-and-out winger, though he himself prefers full-back. At the weekend he got his wish to start in at number 15 in the laboured win over Italy.

Simultaneously Leinster clubmate McFadden was given his Irish debut wide right, while Munster’s Earls lined out on the left.

It was a young back three and one with considerable potential. Fitzgerald and Earls are 23 and McFadden is 24. Fitzgerald has 17 caps, Earls won his 14th on Saturday and McFadden hopes that last weekend proves to have been just the first of many.

Bearing in mind the experience and try-scoring of the back five whose injury-enforced exclusion saw that young threesome called together for the first time in Rome, the gaps they were asked to fill were considerable.

Geordan Murphy, Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe, Shane Horgan and Andrew Trimble have been there, done that and filled several chests of drawers with the tee-shirts. Between them those five have won 228 caps.

With injuries having ruled out Kearney and Murphy for the foreseeable future, Fitzgerald would like to fill the vacancy for a full-back that has left.

Gavin Duffy probably has other ideas, of course, but that’s another matter altogether. The Connacht man lost out against Italy and if Fitzgerald gets his way Duffy is just going to have to continue to be patient. Currently he is the man in possession and although, in rugby, that does not necessarily translate as 9/10ths of the law, it does present a decent enough case until such times as form dictates otherwise.

“I was delighted to get picked there,” Fitzgerald said in the wake of Saturday’s 13-11 win. “Obviously I haven’t come into the Six Nations with great form – there’s been a few bad injuries along the way – but, to be honest, I was happy with my performance against Italy.

“I did what was asked of me and did the simple things well enough, which was important for me. Hopefully that’s enough for me to get in again against France.

“As regards the two other lads, it was great for them to be involved. Fergus is a good mate of mine and obviously a good buddy from Leinster, so it was great to see him do well.

“Earlsy as well; he’s a friend from a long time back. We really enjoyed playing together and hopefully we get another opportunity again in the next couple of weeks and get used to one another and maybe creating a bit more.”

Fitzgerald admits that he saw the Stadio Flaminio outing as “a really big opportunity for me”. But he also reveals that it took its toll in terms of sleep deprivation.

“I think expectations were pretty low – which is tough at times – I was a little more nervous than usual, I must admit. I didn’t have a very comfy sleep the night before. I was tossing and turning a bit.

“But thankfully I did a pretty good job, I think, and hopefully I’ll be able to get a few more games in there and build up a bit of momentum in that 15 position,” he said.

He feels experience played its part in Ireland getting out of jail via Ronan O’Gara’s late drop-goal winner in Rome.

“I think there’s a fair bit of know-how in this team now and a lot of very experienced guys in there. There was no panic when Italy got their late try; we re-gathered ourselves well on the line and tried to put pressure on the kicker.”

Elaborating on that tactic he explained: “We were just trying to get in his eye-line and make him miss that kick. I don’t know if we had anything to do with it but he missed it anyway.

“Then we talked about trying to put good pressure on the kick-off and winning the ball back and we did that. I thought we were pretty clinical when we got in drop-goal range and obviously ROG did great to put the ball over. And we held out well in the end.”

Fitzgerald will await tomorrow’s team announcement with considerable interest – and probably not much sleep.

Belfast Telegraph


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