Fitzgerald to miss rest of season


Rugby:Leinster wing Luke Fitzgerald will miss the rest of the Heineken Cup final against Ulster at Twickenham on May 19th after it was decided a chronic neck problem should be addressed with surgery. The Ireland international will also miss the summer tour to New Zealand.

"Obviously to lose a player of Luke's pedigree at such a crucial time of the season is a massive blow,” said coach Joe Schmidt today, “not just for the team and our supporters, but also for the player himself.

“Luke has been in fine form recently and as well as his capabilities on the field, he is a positive and popular presence within the dressing-room.

"Knowing Luke, he will be determined to overcome this setback and aggressively tackle his rehab to regain full fitness and he will continue to benefit from the full support of Leinster Rugby and the IRFU during that timeframe."

Schmidt, meawnhile, has largely reverted to his shadow side for the weekend game against Dragons in Rodney Parade (KO: 7.30pm).

With the top seeding already secured ahead of next weekend’s Pro 12 play off in the RDS, there is a fresh look to the squad with opportunity knocking for a number of players who have impressed over the campaign.

Dave Kearney steps staright into the position of his older brother Rob, at fullback, while Kevin McLaughlin leads the team as he makes his 72nd provincial appearance after coming on as a replacement in last weekend’s Heineken Cup semi-final victory away to ASM Clermont Auvergne. McLaughlin is joined in the back-row by Dominic Ryan and Leo Auva’a, who penned a two year deal with the province earlier this week.

Jack McGrath starts in the front row alongside Ireland hooker Sean Cronin and Nathan White, with Devin Toner named at second row alongside Damian Browne' who makes his 21st appearance of the campaign.

Cronin, who moved from Connacht after last season, admitted during the week that he received a few thank you texts when Leinster won their game against Clermont and sealed Connacht’s entry into next year’s Heineken Cup.

“I got a few thank you messages after the game on Sunday. It is brilliant because I though they (Connacht) had a great season in the Heineken this year, I know a fantastic win against Harlequins on the last day. It is brilliant that they are in it again and brilliant that they are in it again. I’m delighted for them,” said the Leinster hooker.

While Cronin has had to watch much of the Heineken Cup from the bench, he can see what Schmidt is doing with the Leinster team and that knows nothing but hard work is going to get him a starting place in the bigger matches.

“I think it is a big thing that Joe (Schmidt) drives and the culture that drives it is that it is about the team. If one or two fellas step outside that then it is going to break down,” added Cronin.

“It is tough to take at times because any professional worth his salt wants to start and I am no different and I think I am of the point of view that any chance that you get you have to put your best foot forward. I played against Edinburgh a few weeks ago in the Rabo and I thought I went well then. It is just about trying to do your best whenever you get the chance and giving them the selection headaches and see where you go from there.”

Eoin Reddan links up at halfback with Ian Madigan with Noel Reid partnering Brendan Macken at centre in a backline which features six recent Leinster Academy graduates. Should Isa Nacewa feature from the bench - which mixes the youth of Luke McGrath and Jordi Murphy with the experience of Heinke van der Merwe - it will be the 100th time that he will do so in Leinster colours.

Leinster:D Kearney; A Conway, B Macken, N Reid, F Carr; I Madigan, E Reddan; J McGrath, S Cronin, N White, D Toner, D Browne, K McLaughlin (captain), D Ryan, L Auva’a. Replacements – A Dundon, H van der Merwe, J Hagan, M Flanagan, J Murphy, L McGrath, I Nacewa, D Hudson