Saturday 25 November 2017

Fitzgerald hungry to silence critics with French resistance

Luke Fitzgerald. Photo: Barry Cregg / Sportsfile
Luke Fitzgerald. Photo: Barry Cregg / Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

There are times when one feels curiously emboldened in this profession.

Sure, the gig is often an exercise in nabbing as much free food as possible. Or queuing for 30 minutes to talk to a Championship footballer before being utterly ignored. Or being mistaken for someone important by sports fans at major events (before being trampled upon to reach aforementioned Championship footballer).

Yet there are times when all the sweat-marked shirts and lobby loitering and deadline dodging appears faintly worthwhile; particularly when a part-time exponent carrying the weighty baggage of 35 international caps is getting it in the neck instead of you.

Luke Fitzgerald has somehow picked up Conor O'Shea's criticism of his role in Andrea Masi's dramatic late try in Rome last Saturday and is eager to state his case via a gaggle of suitably smug print hacks.

"It was really interesting to hear some of the guys' comments about it, because I was actually in a similar situation where I stepped in against Saracens and that was definitely wrong," explains Fitzgerald, playing only his second full Ireland game in 18 Tests at full-back.

"But last week, when you're close to your line, you don't say, 'oh, I'm going to stand out here and let them go up the line'. Once the attacker gets outside the last defender, as a full-back, you've got to step in, that is just the rule.

"It was really interesting hearing Conor O'Shea, who got that one wrong, talk about that. I think they executed quite well and got outside us. We'd like to do better, definitely. We could have got more numbers around the corner; that is the real issue we talked about this week."

Les Kiss, Ireland's defence coach, averred with this conclusion earlier in the week, as did Fitzgerald's defensive colleague Fergus McFadden; the leakage needs to be stemmed in-field before the tidal wave washes over the green bodies out wide.

"France's handling in their outside backs is exceptional, so if we give them those opportunities again they will definitely take advantage," Fitzgerald says. "It is a matter of sorting out a couple of the issues from a couple of phrases before and we'll be tighter the next day."

The last man standing can't afford to be making any rash decisions.

"That one, the guys in the studio were saying that Brian O'Driscoll was trying to push me out," he offers. "But after the game Drico was saying I had to step in there and I talked to Les Kiss and he said I did the right thing.

"They're the people who really count and they said I made the right decision. You don't go soft in your line, you don't let them come over for a try. You try and make them make a mistake if you're the last person; you don't just hang out and hope.

"Your man would have fallen over the line if I'd held out. It's one of those real tricky ones for people who were commenting -- they were probably taking a guess because there wasn't even a camera angle showing Drico pushing me out!

"So it was real interesting to hear them talking about it when they didn't really know what was going on. I just listen to the guys whose opinion I really respect and who have good knowledge of the situation and of our systems. They've been a great help and they agreed with the decision I took on the weekend so I won't second-guess myself again."

Familiarity within the back three will hopefully lead to even greater integration this weekend. Fitzgerald isn't counting his cockerels, but he remains confident that there is more to come from the Irish trio.

"Absolutely, yeah," he enthuses. "I think the more time we get together the more comfortable we'll be. The lads gave me great support at the weekend. Their positioning was fantastic and made my job an awful lot easier.

"We'd love to have a big defensive performance against them because they're a very tough team to defend against. That would be really important for us, confidence-wise, to be able to get one over on them in that aspect.

"And as well, it would be lovely to see our attack come together and really be clinical if we do get opportunities. That would be great."

Fitzgerald will keep his eye on the ball. But he won't mind watching the detectives either.

Irish Independent

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