Fitzgerald goes from unwanted to an essential
LUKE FITZGERALD has just seen his value increase.
The Leinster and Ireland winger has been at loggerheads with the IRFU over the worth of his contract to stay in Ireland, but yesterday's news that Tommy Bowe could be out of action for as long as four months, with an intra-abdominal haematoma, and is almost certain to miss the summer tour to New Zealand has altered the bargaining landscape significantly.
It is never desirable to profit from another player's misfortune, but the fact is that a spot in the Ireland starting back-three has just opened up and Fitzgerald, if he can produce a decent run of form between now and the end of May, is in prime position to step into it.
With negotiations due to be re-joined next week, a big game today against Cardiff would strengthen his hand considerably and Fitzgerald could go from unwanted to essential very quickly.
Fergus McFadden is likely to tour in any case and could slot into that jersey, but for the player's own sake, he needs to be considered solely as centre, preferably a 12. Bowe's loss, which means he has played his last game for the Ospreys before re-joining Ulster, will be considerable as he showed with his leading try-scoring turn in the Six Nations.
He is a leading senior player for Ireland and it is to be hoped his post-surgery recovery goes smoothly and he can return for next season fully fit and fresh. In the meantime, there are several talented alternatives pushing for a place in the New Zealand touring party and Fitzgerald is at the head of the queue.
A big game today, particularly against an opponent as highly regarded as Alex Cuthbert, would send out a powerful message to Ireland coach Declan Kidney and the IRFU. It has been a tough 15 months for Fitzgerald, but it is in his hands now to turn things around spectacularly.
Has made a big impact in his breakthrough season with Munster, where he has gone from bit-part player to essential stand-in for the injured Doug Howlett in rapid time.
This weekend is a big opportunity to make a statement and while making the touring party to New Zealand would be a massive step up, he was involved in Six Nations squad sessions and has showed he has a Bowe-like eye for the try-line.
Isa Nacewa has been outstanding for Leinster over the past few years, but the Aucklander's presence keeps Kearney out of the limelight this weekend -- forced to make do with the British and Irish Cup semi-final against Munster last night. Nonetheless, Kearney is a serious talent and, like Zebo, was involved in Six Nations training. The issue is getting him high-level involvement between now and the naming of the touring party.
He is enjoying a great season with Ulster and has earned his place in their starting line-up. Matches pace with purpose and a willingness to seek possession. If Ulster can make some waves over the next few weeks, Gilroy will be in the mix.
Lacks the out-and-out pace of a natural winger, but Hurley is a fine footballer and uses his size and power to great effect in a Shane Horgan-like fashion. He is particularly effective chasing kicks and has the benefit of front-line involvement with Munster.
Will be hard to get attention as Connacht's season peters out, but O'Halloran has done very well this campaign and is a natural wide man.