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Gilroy so much to offer when Ireland's call comes, says Luke Fitzgerald

By Jonathan Bradley

Whether it be wearing Ireland green or Leinster blue, the recently retired Luke Fitzgerald has a wealth of experience playing under Joe Schmidt and admits he wasn't surprised to hear the national coach describe Craig Gilroy's Six Nations hat-trick against Italy two weeks ago as a "mixed bag".

The Ulster wing came on only as a 48th minute substitute in Rome during the last round of action, quickly running in an eye-catching trio of scores against the Azzurri.

In the immediate aftermath however, Schmidt was quick to dampen any enthusiasm surrounding the first hat-trick by a substitute in a Tier One Test since 1999.

"I thought it was a mixed bag for Craig," he said.

"There was a couple of defensive things, positionally, that I think he'll learn from.

"The reason we chose him is because we were going to maybe give a few different guys chances over these first two weeks, we committed to that."

If it all seemed to be damning with faint praise, for Fitzgerald the comments were in keeping with Schmidt's desire to see his players excel in the unseen detail.

"Joe is very processed-based and you have to take each game on its merits," explained Fitzgerald who won 34 Ireland caps, the last eight of which came under Schmidt, before having to call time on his career last summer.

"Craig scored one fortuitous try with the bounce, but you still have to get it, one he maybe walked over, and one beautiful try in there too.

"Joe looks at the whole package, it's the bits that are more technical.

"Are you fighting on the ground? Are you presenting the ball for the scrum-half?

"Everything comes into play with him. It's not just who dotted down. That's the way it should be.

"Three tries will grab the headlines but at the same time, it's not always a reflection of how you played.

"You have to be careful. I did think Craig looked very good in Rome.

"He was very active. He looked confident and he finished really well but I still think there's a bit of growth there in terms of defensive stuff.

"I think that's an area he needs to improve, certainly his positioning can be poor and that can get exposed at this level.

"That's maybe why he hasn't got as many caps as he probably thought (he would).

"He's an athlete, he's a finisher, and if he gets that one thing right, he'll be a real threat for that jersey.

"That's why I'd say Joe wants to temper that enthusiasm from the three tries."

Andrew Trimble has missed out on the opening rounds of the championship with a groin complaint but is now back in full training, and Fitzgerald expects the Ulster captain to be straight back into a wing berth when Schmidt names his team to face France this weekend.

"Trimble maybe fits Joe's eye a bit better," added the man who is still just 29-years-old. "He's a bit more physical.

"I think Trimble comes in ahead of Craig even though he was very good two weeks ago.

"Trimble has played brilliantly for Joe in the past and there'll be no issues coming back in. Andrew is a very fit guy.

"He's a very good athlete, and he's a guy Joe likes too."

Belfast Telegraph


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