Tuesday 23 January 2018

'Every time I get the ball I feel dangerous'

Fitzgerald desperate to put injury hell firmly behind him

Luke Fitzgerald of Leinster catches the ball during the match between Leinster and Northampton Saints
Luke Fitzgerald of Leinster catches the ball during the match between Leinster and Northampton Saints
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

LUKE FITZGERALD is involved in a sort of Groundhog Day, a succession of comebacks and setbacks that mean he gets involved in the same conversation every couple of months.

He is hoping to break the cycle and, having returned to fitness and form in recent weeks, wants to banish the thoughts of those watching on who perennially think he is the road back from injury hell.

The 26-year-old Lion is one of Ireland's unluckiest rugby players. It is easy to forget how young he still is and the potential that was so obvious before he began his horrendous run with a knee injury at the end of his Grand Slam and Lions year in 2009.

"I went through a poor enough patch in 2011, and I kind of feel like maybe I'm paying a little bit for that now because all I hear is, 'oh, you're back, you're back'," he said with a wry smile yesterday.

"But I suppose injuries have had a big part in that and I do feel as though I am definitely playing well and hopefully I can keep that going."

That bad patch cost him a place at the 2011 World Cup, but since then he has hit some highs with Leinster and fought his way back into the international reckoning. But every time he gets close, the rug is pulled out from under him.

UNSCATHED

Leinster's defeat to Northampton was a blow to their season, but it was another step on the road for Fitzgerald, who came through 80 minutes unscathed.

The more he plays, the more those woes fade into the rearview mirror and the more he gets to talk about rugby instead of injuries, form and luck.

"We are a performance-focused team and we just didn't perform well," said Fitzgerald of the Northampton defeat. "We are looking to bounce back this weekend (against Edinburgh) in what has been a very tough place for us.

"Our basics were very poor. I thought we allowed them into the game with poor handling errors, which was very unlike us.

"We let them into the game in a number of areas where we were just really disappointing. I think they are easy things to fix."

It was a bad day at the office for the team and it puts their seemingly unstoppable drive towards a home quarter-final in jeopardy, but Leinster know that this is a long season and that those kind of matches can happen during the back-to-back December games.

They are determined to bounce back against the Scots in the Pro12 this weekend, and Fitzgerald is hoping to keep his impressive form going.

Having fought his way on to the Ireland bench for last month's heartbreaking defeat to New Zealand, he has international honours on his mind.

"That's always the aim," he said. "That's the aim for any Irish guy, to get into that international team. That's a focus of mine, but it is most important that I focus on my performances with Leinster and let that do the talking.

"There's a lot of competition around the provinces, a lot of Irish guys playing very well, so I just have to keep my performance level as high as I can and let Joe (Schmidt) do the rest.

"I haven't been playing too badly. I have had a couple of stop-starts. I made my way back into the Irish team the last Six Nations before I got injured out of nowhere. I made my way into the November internationals having been injured as well, so I think I have been playing well for a while.

"I feel I'm in a good place, I feel I'm dangerous whenever I get the ball so I just need to get my hands on it as much as I can.

"Obviously there's a couple of areas where I'd like to improve like everyone in the team this week, so I'll focus on them and hopefully keep the other positive bits going."

Yesterday, the province began the process of figuring out what had gone wrong in the seven days between their back-to-back Northampton games.

Scrum coach Greg Feek described the review as being "brutally honest".

"On attack we ran straight into a brick wall a few times and that takes it out of you," the New Zealander said.

"We had to defend a lot and that takes it out of you hugely. We gave them a massive amount of line-out drives on the line and there was a little bit of set-piece inaccuracy as well, but at the end of the day we had enough ball to play with and we kept giving it back to them.

"Obviously that is due to their good defence and tying up our ball-carrier and the breakdown and things like that.

"So, we need to address that and fix that -- they are the basics of the game and something we pride ourselves on. We let it slip and we were a little bit slow to react at crucial times and didn't nail maybe those couple of setpieces here and there as well, which was crucial.

"We've just got to fight our way out of it and win the pool, and that means winning the next two games (against Castres and the Ospreys). Then we can regroup and hopefully get another crack at it and keep going."

Irish Independent

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