Monday 22 July 2019

Conor Murray backs Luke Fitzgerald to shine in Ireland's Rugby World Cup opener

Makeshift inside centre Luke Fitzgerald can add a new dimension to Ireland's backline in Saturday's World Cup opener against Canada, according to Conor Murray.

Leinster's utility back Fitzgerald has replaced hamstring injury victim Robbie Henshaw in Ireland's starting line-up for the Pool D clash in Cardiff.

Fitzgerald missed the final cut for the 2007 and 2011 tournaments, but scrum-half Murray has backed the 28-year-old to hand Ireland a playmaking edge on his World Cup debut.

British and Irish Lions half-back Murray admitted an edge of relief at easing through concussion testing to start the World Cup, after a bang to the head in Ireland's 21-13 defeat to England at Twickenham.

"Luke can definitely add something different to our backline," said Murray.

"He can play in a number of different games and he'll bring his own style of game to the table as well.

"He can slot into our formation seamlessly, so he's a flair player, a very exciting player and I'm looking forward to playing with him.

"He's played an awful lot with Johnny (Sexton), and Lukey is a playmaker as well, so that will be another string to our bow come Saturday."

Connacht battering ram Henshaw pulled up with hamstring trouble on Tuesday in the closing stages of Ireland's final training session before heading to Cardiff for the start of the World Cup.

The Athlone native has been one of head coach Joe Schmidt's most trusted lieutenants in Ireland's consecutive RBS 6 Nations title campaigns.

Fitzgerald is more accustomed to life in the outside backs, but has the creativity to add a level of width to Ireland's game that has been lacking in recent times.

Backing Fitzgerald to slot in without issue even at such short notice, Murray confirmed himself fit and ready for action following his concussion scare.

"I remember throughout last season we had players stepping in at late notice and Luke's no different, he knows the gameplan and the plays and he can come in and do a really good job," said Murray.

"He can bring his own individual game to the party as well.

"The bang to the head against England, it was quite innocuous, I passed all the tests on the sidelines, but the replay showed I was still on the ground for three or four seconds afterwards, so they said don't risk it.

"I've cleared all my return-to-play protocols, and I feel great, I've trained full all this week.

"When you have to come off even though you feel okay, it does feel strange but you've got to respect the precaution.

"There could be the possibility of a delayed onset (concussion), so you just then are hoping that doesn't happen.

"We're all educated now in how serious concussion is, so it was the right call at the time and I had no issue at all in coming off.

"If I'd stayed on and got another bang it could have been a lot worse, but I'm fine now and ready to go."

Schmidt insisted Ireland are confident Henshaw will be fit in time for the second Pool D clash, against Romania at Wembley on Sunday week.

"Right at the end of training on Tuesday, Robbie felt his hamstring tighten a little," said Schmidt.

"We got it scanned and there's a little bit of blood there.

"He does feel that tightness when accelerating so there would be a real risk to push him ahead.

"We'd be quietly confident he should be available by next Sunday."

PA Media

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