Luke Fitzgerald sees the positives as Leinster earn home quarter-final
Long-term injury problems behind him as he finds run of form
Luke Fitzgerald: “I’m happy with where I’m at. I’m happy, I think I’m playing well.” Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho.
Delighted to be back playing after 10 increasingly frustrating months on the sideline, and to be finding a run of form as well as regaining his place in the Irish squad and picking up a Man of the Match gong, Luke Fitzgerald is probably more likely to take a positive slant on things than most.
Fitzgerald, a self-confessed anorak who intended being glued to his television yesterday, would have been further enthused when Leinster subsequently ended up with a home quarter-final.
“It’s very exciting. If we look at the bigger picture we have some great guys coming back. We have the European Player of the Year coming back. We have Cian Healy, Jack McGrath and Rhys Ruddock who I just think is a class act. He has gone slightly unnoticed although he came on the radar slightly more in November. He is just a mutant of a man. He is an unbelievable athlete. With those guys coming back you would have to feel we will only get better. They are all smart footballers as well, and Jamie has been playing pretty banged up. Having him hopefully back fully fit after the Six Nations, we’ll be a force to be reckoned with.”
Then there’s Fitzgerald himself. He has just enjoyed a run of seven consecutive games, and his good form has remained on a strong upward curve. This time a year ago he was likely to be playing for Ireland in the Six Nations until his groin/hip flexor problem sidelined him for longer than anticipated, amid genuine fears for the remainder of his career with every abortive comeback.
“Honestly. there was a period there when I said, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ I came back and got the surgery done, it was supposed to take three months and it was more inflamed in that period after three months of rehab than it was before I got the surgery.”
Asked if he was happy with his form and his fitness, Fitzgerald joked self-deprecatingly: “Which bit, the form or the fitness?”
“Yeah, from both perspectives I’m happy with where I’m at. I’m happy, I think I’m playing well. I don’t know where I’ll be in terms of positioning with Joe. I don’t know what he sees me as but I’m just happy to be in the squad and to have given myself a shout.”
“Today I couldn’t believe I got Man of the Match because usually all the defensive stuff goes completely unnoticed, but I thought I had a good defensive game, and I thought I had a relatively minor impact on the game in attack. That’s a good thing that everybody notices those things.”
There have not been any slashing breaks or tries yet, but plenty of good footwork on the ball, good carrying, passing and offloading, and also excellent footwork in defence to go with some reads here which were vintage Brian O’Driscoll as he shepherded Wasps across the line to reduce overlaps.
“Obviously I was defending outside Drico for a long time, so you pick up lots of different things off different guys. For me, always, Darce was the best guy to watch because of his footwork and the stuff he could do. He’s got the shape for it, the little hobbit!”
“But in fairness to him – and I’d say the same thing about Drico – he’s a dream to defend outside or inside, he makes really good reads and when he’s in the mood there’s no better player to defend with.”
“Obviously you learn a lot off Drico. Drico, for me, as a player, the things you learn from him is – not from the showers – but honestly he has the biggest balls.
“When things got tight, his top 10 per cent – his head – that was the stuff you learn off Drico. He was just a hard, hard man. All the fancy stuff, you can take all that, but he was the guy you’d want to go to war with. So that’s what you learn off those two guys. Great players.”