Sunday 22 April 2018

Fitzgerald boost for Leinster

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

LUKE Fitzgerald returns to competitive rugby at inside centre for Leinster this evening as they open their Pro12 campaign away at the Ospreys.

The Ireland and Lions star will step in to fill the void left by youngster Eamonn Sheridan's injury troubles, which couldn't have come at a worse time for him.

New signings Mat Berquist and Damian Browne join returned Connacht exiles Fionn Carr and Jamie Hagan in the starting line-up, while promising scrum-half John Cooney makes his debut.

Experience will come from Isa Nacewa, Kevin McLaughlin and Richardt Strauss, but Joe Schmidt has handed the captain's armband to Rhys Ruddock who will be up against some of his former team-mates from the Ospreys' academy at the Liberty Stadium.

Having made his senior international debut in 2010, and been involved in the extended World Cup training at Carton House over the summer, Ruddock might have hoped to have been in New Zealand this week.

That dream was quashed early and now he is focused on gaining a regular spot in the European champions' most competitive area.


With Shane Jennings, Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip away, there couldn't be a better time to shine.

"This season is massive for me and hopefully I'll be involved in all of the games during the World Cup," he said.

"That's a big opportunity. If I want to secure a place at national level, I have to cement my place at regional first. That's my focus at the moment."

Having lost a number of players to France -- and some more to the Welsh squad -- the Welsh region are in something of a transitional phase this season, but led by Justin Tipuric they have named a strong side for tonight's game, with Welsh internationals Andrew Bishop, Ian Gough and Dan Biggar all starting.

Despite that, Leinster have the strongest record of any away team in Swansea and will be confident of getting off to a winning start.

Verdict: Away win

OSPREYS -- R Fussell; K Phillips, A Bishop, A Beck, H Dirksen; D Biggar, R Webb; D Jones, M Davies, C Griffiths; I Gough, I Evans; T Smith, J Tipuric (capt), J Thomas. Replacements: M Dwyer, K Dowding, J Rees, J King, M Allen, T Isaacs, M Morgan, S Parker.

LEINSTER -- I Nacewa; F Carr, E O'Malley, L Fitzgerald, D Kearney; M Berquist, J Cooney; H van der Merwe, R Strauss, J Hagan; D Browne, D Toner; K McLaughlin, D Ryan, R Ruddock (capt). Replacements: A Dundon, J McGrath, J O'Connell, M Flanagan, L Auva'a, C Willis, I Madigan, B Macken.

REF -- Peter Fitzgibbon (IRFU).

Ospreys v Leinster,

Live, BBC Wales, 7.05

Irish Independent

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