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Stand-in Fitzgerald relishing chance to stake inside claims

TIMING can be everything. It is one of the mesmerising facts in Luke Fitzgerald's rugby career that he has started a Test match for the British & Irish Lions but not yet played in a World Cup.

Still just 24, Fitzgerald was viewed as too young by Eddie O'Sullivan for RWC 2007 in France, on-song for Warren Gatland on the Lions tour to South Africa in 2009 and out-of-favour for Declan Kidney in New Zealand this year. It is the roller-coaster reality of his profession.

While Fergus McFadden and Eoin O'Malley have taken it in turns to make definite claims for the outside berth vacated by Brian O'Driscoll's operation and rehabilitation, Fitzgerald wants to broaden his playing horizon.

After all, he did spend much of the first half-dozen PRO12 League matches at inside centre, more out of necessity than a long-term plan.

"We were short of centres. I've played a couple of internationals in the centre. It was an easy fit for me and the team at that time," he said, ahead of Leinster's next PRO12 test away to Benetton Treviso on Saturday.

"I definitely enjoyed my time in there. It is not something I have consciously made a move towards. It is just the way things have panned out with Ferg (McFadden), Brian (O'Driscoll) and Darce (Gordon D'Arcy) away at the World Cup.

"Since then, with Brian being injured, it seemed like it was up for grabs until Ferg and Eoin's (O'Malley) brilliant performances (in the Heineken Cup). I would be keen to get time in there. Joe knows that. But, I will do whatever fits the team best."

It wasn't that long ago that Fitzgerald had lost contact with his game. This was manifested most obviously in his tendency to over-run the ball. He was trying too hard, too quickly.

"It was something I was very conscious of. I had a bit of a rough patch during the Six Nations and for a couple of games after it when I definitely wasn't playing well," he said. "I was very conscious of a lot of things in my game that I was rushing."

The solution to his problem of recapturing his former form has been to look back at what made him the hottest property in Irish rugby in 2009.

"I try to slow down the thought processes that I'm going through," he said. "On the pitch, I am probably one of those players who has more time than I think I have at times. It is something I have been working on and it has been working for me so far.

"There is that saying -- great players do the simple things exceptionally well. When I was going through that tough patch, you look back on what you were doing well (before that). I did the simple things well. I think I am doing that at the moment."

It is as simple as that.