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No end in sight for Fitzgerald impasse

LUKE Fitzgerald's Leinster future looks increasingly uncertain with no end in sight to the impasse with the IRFU over his new contract.

The IRFU and Fitzgerald's representatives are refusing to comment on the negotiations which appear to be becoming increasingly sensitive.

It is believed the IRFU have taken Fitzgerald's loss of form and fitness last season as reason enough to offer a 30% reduction in his contract from an annual €280,000 to €200,000 which the Fitzgerald camp are not keen on.

If no deal is done, Fitzgerald could be on his way to the French Top 14, with English Premiership clubs unlikely to shell out the money needed to bring the talented winger to England.

Fitzgerald's lightning pace and exciting counter-attack play has drawn a lot of admirers in French rugby circles.

The 24-year-old has suffered a tumultuous year which included numerous injuries and his high profile omission from Declan Kidney's world cup squad.

Hartley ban

Dylan Hartley will only play for Northampton again this season if they reach the Aviva Premiership final on May 26.

Hartley was yesterday banned for eight weeks for biting the finger of Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris in England's 30-9 victory at Twickenham 10 days ago.

The 26-year-old will be available for England's summer tour to South Africa, but is destined to watch Saints' run-in from the sidelines.

"I am disappointed by the result and I will wait for the written judgment as to how the panel came to their conclusion," Hartley said.

Munster blow

Munster's hopes of closing the gap on Leinster at the top of the Pro12 have been dealt a big blow with confirmation that skipper Paul O'Connell, scrum-half Conor Murray and lock Donnacha Ryan will miss the Thomond Park clash on Saturday (7.30).

Munster coach Tony McGahan remains hopeful that the trio of Irish internationals will be available for the Heineken Cup quarter-final against Ulster on Sunday week.

Munster also confirmed that Peter Stringer, currently on loan with Newcastle, has agreed a new one-year contract for next season.