Knee injury puts Luke Fitzgerald in serious doubt for Six Nations opener with Wales
Luke Fitzgerald has emerged as a major doubt for Ireland's opening Six Nations game against Wales next Sunday after he suffered an injury at yesterday's open training session at the Aviva Stadium.
The Leinster winger was seen going down clutching his left leg during a training drill and took no further part in the action after being helped off the field by the medics.
Fitzgerald had been expected to be in involved in the match-day 23 at least for the crucial clash with Warren Gatland's side in Dublin, but now faces an anxious wait to establish the seriousness of the injury.
If it proves to be serious, it would be the latest in a long line of crushing blows for the luckless 28-year-old, whose career has been interrupted by a sequence of serious injuries in recent years.
Ireland's next medical update is due to be issued on Tuesday after the players return to their Kildare base after a weekend off following their first week of preparation in camp under Joe Schmidt.
The head coach has released seven players to the provinces this weekend, with Robbie Henshaw donning the Connacht No 13 jersey for their key Guinness Pro12 clash against Scarlets in Galway this afternoon. He is expected to see 50-60 minutes of action before being hauled ashore.
If he comes through that game unscathed, the Athlone native is likely to come into the Irish midfield for the Wales game, while James Cronin will be on the Ireland bench as back-up to Jack McGrath if he gets through Munster's meeting with Zebre without a problem.
Finlay Bealham also starts for Connacht, who have Ultan Dillane on their bench, while Luke Marshall is among the Ulster replacements for their game against Treviso this evening.
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Ian Madigan and Richardt Strauss featured for Leinster against Dragons last night.
Schmidt is keeping his players guessing ahead of the big kick-off, with Paddy Jackson putting the heat on Johnny Sexton, who formed part of the opposition at training yesterday; it is understood that Sexton was joined by Jamie Heaslip, Rob Kearney and Devin Toner as CJ Stander, Josh van der Flier and Simon Zebo got their chance to impress.
The head coach may have simply been trying to throw Wales a curve-ball as they try and second guess his selection, but with just three more sessions to go before he names his team and a six-day turnaround between Wales and the away trip to face France, there are likely to be some interesting selections next week.
Meanwhile, Conor Murray yesterday said he hopes Zebo joins Keith Earls and himself in committing his future to Munster and Irish rugby.
Admitting that it was a relief to get his own three-year deal over the line, the scrum-half accepted that not every player's situation was straightforward, but said that the more good players who re-sign for Munster, who yesterday signed Billy Holland up for two more years, the better.
Zebo has attracted attention from France, but the Ireland scrum-half wants him to sign on.
"It's a weight off the shoulders," he said of his own contract. "It would have been a little bit inconvenient if it was hanging over your head and in your mind during the Six Nations. I'm delighted to have it locked away now.
"I would be quite friendly with quite a few lads whose contracts are up at the moment. It's down to their own private situation whether it be family or money or whatever, they have to look after that.
"As a playing group, as a collective group, a core of players, you'd like that to remain as solid as possible and use that group to drive the whole province forward in the future.
"Simon would be one of my good friends who would be in negotiation at the moment. It's tough. Even before I signed, there was still a bit of toing and froing. You don't know how he's getting on behind closed doors, how his agent is getting on.
"Obviously I hope he stays, he's a great player. He's a player that puts bums on seats for us, he's an entertainer, he's a world-class winger on his day and I think he'd be hugely valuable for us going forward.
"If you asked me do I know, I don't know. But I certainly hope he does because that makes our bond stronger with Munster."
Elsewhere, Connacht's Challenge Cup quarter-final against Grenoble has been fixed for Saturday, April 9 at 8.05 (Irish time) in the French city.