'It’s a position that suits my attributes' - Luke Fitzgerald has sights firmly set on number 12 jersey
Plagued by injury for years, Luke Fitzgerald has struggled for continuity in any one position, but now in rude health the Leinster back is determined to get a prolonged run at inside centre.
The question of where exactly in the three-quarter line the former Blackrock College star would best serve Ireland and Leinster, has long since vexed coaches and fans alike.
Fitzgerald made his name in the Grand Slam winning campaign of 2009 on the left wing and, that summer, represented the Lions there in the second test against South Africa.
At Leinster, Joe Schmidt and Matt O’Connor deployed him on the wing and in midfield but, just when the 28-year-old was finding some rhythm, the injury hex would rear its ugly head.
At the World Cup, he stepped in for Robbie Henshaw to give a fine showing at 12 in Ireland’s opening victory over Canada, prior to a stunning, try-scoring cameo on the wing after replacing Tommy Bowe during the quarter-final loss against Argentina.
On both occasions, the fluent step and powerful thrust of old were in full evidence, though it’s in the former position - where he played in Leinster's loss to Bath over the weekend - where the utility player sees his future.
For the second time this season, Leo Cullen selected Fitzgerald with Ben Te’o outside him in midfield and the partnership appears to have potential.
“I’m looking to get a bit of time in there,” he said. “Obviously, you have to keep playing well to do that, so that’s the challenge for me. It’s a position that suits the attributes I have, so I’m really enjoying it there, obviously not enjoying losing there. But I’m really enjoying playing there and, like I said, it’s a place that I like to play and I could see myself playing there going forward.
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“Hopefully, I’ll keep getting selected there, keeping playing well there and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
The 34-cap international watched as Leinster’s scrum was pulverised by the hosts time and again on Saturday at the Rec, which left those behind them with little room to construct a meaningful offence.
However, he claimed that the backs were not ruthlessness enough when chances did present themselves, and that the pack will have addressed the shortcomings at set-piece come Friday’s Guinness Pro 12 showdown with Ulster at the RDS.
“Obviously, the boys (forwards) didn’t have their best game; I think there’s some brilliant players in there and expect them to turn it around pretty quickly.
“From a backs’ perspective, in games like that when things aren’t going to plan up front, the couple of opportunities you get become even more important and we need to become a bit more clinical with those.”
Fully acknowledging that Leinster’s performances have left plenty to be desired over the last week, most notably the 33-6 drubbing at the hands of Wasps at the RDS, Fitzgerald said the onus is on the players to give the fans something to cheer about.
In Ulster, they face a side who’s Champions Cup has also started poorly and, with only a point separating them in the Pro 12, a tasty derby seems in the offing.
“It’s good to have a huge challenge this weekend against Ulster, who are coming off the back of a very tough result as well, so they’ll be up for it.
“They’re only one place behind us, so it’s really important. In the RDS, the people are looking for a better performance; the last time they came out, we obviously didn’t do ourselves justice or make them proud, which is something we always try to do which was very disappointing.
“I think we want to have the place rocking again and have the crowd up on their feet and enjoying the rugby we’re playing and us performing and winning games there,” he said.