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IRFU cut contract talks with crocked Fitzgerald

THE IRFU have pulled out of contract talks with three-time Heineken Cup winner Luke Fitzgerald with the winger unlikely to play competitively again until 2013.

Fitzgerald could be out of action for as much as six months following surgery to his shoulder.

The knock-on effect is that he won't be offered a centralised contract by the Irish Rugby Football Union as he begins a long period of rehabilitation, and he has instead begun negotiations directly with Leinster.

"We have made Luke an offer of a contract. We will wait for his agent to come back to us.

"We have a duty of care to him and we want to see him at Leinster for the foreseeable future," said chief executive Mick Dawson.

"Luke's been with us since he was 18. He's 24 now and we would hope that he'd be with us for a lot longer.

"He has been a fantastic player and will be a fantastic player, and he's very, very popular with the crowd.

"We're acutely aware of that, we want to make sure that we can nurse him through this injury, get him back on the pitch and get him back playing for Leinster - and Ireland, I suppose - in early 2013.

"He has a 26-to-32-week rehab period and we have a duty of care to make sure that goes right, and, hopefully, he'll be working with us under our tutelage so that he can get back on the pitch ready for action."

It means Fitzgerald is likely to remain at Leinster at least until he can recover full fitness and form to redeem his career with the IRFU, settle for a 'Leinster-only' deal or look for a lucrative contract at an overseas club at some time in the future.

Leinster manager Guy Easterby revealed Fitzgerald had not yet accepted the new deal but he was "confident" the former British and Ireland Lions winger would do so.

The Ireland left-wing's bargaining position has been totally undermined by the serious shoulder injury which happened in the middle of protracted contract negotiations between the IRFU's reported offer of a ¤200,000 salary, since withdrawn, against his old mark of ¤280,000.