Luke Fitzgerald has said that the prospective postponement of Ireland’s crunch Six Nations clash with France in Paris could turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
With the home clash against Italy that was scheduled for this Saturday already a victim of the coronavirus outbreak, rugby chiefs had stated on Monday that the remainder of the Six Nations would proceed as planned. However, they added the caveat that 'its six Unions and Federations are following the situation very closely with their respective governments and relevant health authorities and will strictly follow any directive given that would impact sporting events.'
On Tuesday evening, a statement from the French Rugby Federation (FFR) announced that they would be meeting the French Government on Wednesday and 'it will scrupulously apply the decisions of the competent authorities (government, ministries and prefectures in particular), and will endeavour to relay as soon as possible to the leagues and clubs the information it will receive' - casting doubt on the March 14th clash with Ireland.
But while another postponed Ireland game would be hugely frustrating for supporters, former international back Fitzgerald thinks that it may allow Andy Farrell and his players room to bed in some new ideas away from the pressure of the Six Nations.
"It's a really strange time for the Irish team," Fitzgerald told The Left Wing, Independent.ie’s rugby podcast in association with Land Rover.
"They've come off a hammering in Twickenham, and the Italy game is cancelled. This one's up in the air, but they're training away and they don't really have a release to get it out of their system on the pitch.
"In terms of what Andy Farrell might do with the squad, they won't get another chance until the summer or November, who knows. It's a really, really bizarre time.
"It'll be really frustrating for them and they received a huge amount of criticism after the England game. They'll be really disappointed.
"But if the France game is called off, I think it may be a good thing, it'll give everyone a bit of time to reassess what's going on. It could be a good thing, maybe just getting out of camp.
"Because it doesn't seem like there's been a huge amount of progress thus far. I was thinking about this in the meantime and he (Farrell)'s only had three games. And I was fairly critical of a few aspects of it and I think they do require some introspection on those."
Those three games have proved to be a mixed bag with an unconvincing win against Scotland that owed as much to Stuart Hogg’s slippy fingers as positive Irish play followed by an excellent bonus-point performance against Wales, before being bullied once again by England.
And it’s getting time to learn how to deal with that sort of intensity that Fitzgerald believes could be the up-side should the French fixture go the way of the Italy game and potentially be rescheduled for the autumn.
"Some parts of the game plan, it'll be beneficial for them to have a bit of time away and really think about the problems that England caused them," the ex-Ireland and Leinster man explained.
"That's the key thing at the moment, you look at South Africa in the final, you look at England in the World Cup in the games they played well. Suffocating teams with that defensive pressure.
"Figuring out a way around that, figuring out how you manage the game does require some thought. It's the next big challenge because it doesn't look like they're refereeing the offside line to me. So this is something that you're going to have to come up against all the time.
"It requires some deep thought and probably a change of tack in lots of different areas that maybe before you might have just said, well, that's just how we play the game. It's kind of ingrained in you.
"I think it requires a reassessment in a few of those areas. So it'll be interesting to see what happens.
"There's probably pros and cons with maybe having a game or not having a game. I'm sure the players will be frustrated they don't get another chance."