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It could be lucky 13 for Luke

Leinster coach Matt O'Connor holds the option Luke Fitzgerald could "potentially" take his first steps towards a long-term future in the number thirteen jersey against Harlequins.

It was the way it was suppose to be so many moons ago as Fitzgerald dazzled and dazed opponents with his footwork and electric change of direction, a born successor to Brian O'Driscoll.

Like others before him, he spent too long on the wing and then began to encounter a dreadful trail of injuries that would have broken a lesser man.

His latest setback has been painful. How horrible that the very thing that made him standout is the very thing that has kept him out of the game.

The hip/groin/pelvic injury owes its' triggers to the 2009 British & Irish Lion's special evasion skills. The acceleration and change of angle stress that area.

The comebacks have been many and, often, short-term.

"It's about Luke playing regularly. There is no doubt about the talent, if fit," said O'Connor.

"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 and trying.

"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 does play at so far this year and in stages last year. The amount of rugby time he is doing is significantly limited.

"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."

As Gordon D'Arcy has matured and slowed with age, he has followed the change of Brian O'Driscoll from an attacking threat to more of a defensive force.

Harlequins centre Matt Hopper is a man who reflects Conor O'Shea's ambition to play rugby. He has been faulted in the past as a weak defender.

Where D'Arcy is no more in a position to full take advantage of this, Fitzgerald is an entirely different proposition, as a knife-through-butter ball carrier.

"I mean yeah, 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," agreed O'Connor.

"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."

Surely, Fitzgerald will come on from his impact against Harlequins and O'Connor expects the London club to move forward too from their 24-18 victory at The Stoop, despite the loss of flanker Chris Robshaw and out-half Nick Evans.

"We're genuinely expecting them to be better," he stated.

Why wouldn't they be? Director of Rugby Conor O'Shea will have his men well-briefed on The Aviva Stadium and the fact the surface is made for their free-flowing style of rugby.

Moreover, they hold the King piece of leading Pool Two with three points to spare over Leinster.

"They've given themselves a chance. The winner of this game goes a long way towards winning the group and is in control of their destiny and the quarterfinal, then you're in a position to win the competition.

"They have everything to play for. They were very good last week, they made it hard to break down.

"They dominated the set-piece. There are things we need to make sure we get right.

"Otherwise, it becomes very evident you might not get the result."

If that should come to pass, the burden of proof will fall on O'Connor.

The Australian has been targeted as a pale shadow of Joe Schmidt.

This is unfair and untrue, according to his captain Jamie Heaslip.

"Over the last two years, Matty has really opened up our game, forced us to maybe play more and not be as robotic, to use your football ability while still working in a system and the way we want to play," he said.

"I think you've seen it in the amount of tries we've scored, in going on last year to win the Pro12 and get out of our group which we hadn't done previously.

"I think we're in a good place at the moment, in terms of the league, and we're relatively still in control in Europe, so we're in a good place thanks to Matty's direction and Leo and Richie and Marco as well.

"So, for us players and for me you just get a confidence that you want to play more and that's what's Matty's brought to the table."

The table that matters most is the one on which Leinster trail Harlequins in Pool Two of the Champions Cup.


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