Luke Fitzgerald believes Europe’s big guns will fear facing Leinster in the Champions Cup knockout phase after Matt O’Connor’s side secured a home quarter-final clash with Bath.
Fitzgerald’s defensive grit in Saturday’s 20-20 draw at Wasps may just be enough to edge him into Ireland’s 13 shirt for the RBS 6 Nations opener in Italy on February 7.
The 27-year-old is finally fit and firing after battling unrelenting groin trouble in 2014, and believes Leinster are starting to hit their straps too.
Leinster were left frustrated by Saturday’s draw at Wasps, but results elsewhere have still earned the Dubliners a last-eight showdown at the Aviva Stadium with Premiership club Bath.
“I think we look very strong, I would say a lot of teams would be pretty disappointed in having to play us now,” said Fitzgerald.
“I think teams would look at it and say, ’Jeez, how have we drawn these guys?’ That’s how I feel about it.
“Maybe I’m overly confident in us, but I think like we’re playing some decent rugby and we’ve got an awful lot left in us, which is a nice place to be considering we’ve qualified.”
Bath beat Glasgow 20-15 at The Rec to set up that April battle with Leinster, as four-time Heineken Cup champions Toulouse slipped out of Europe losing 27-26 at Montpellier.
Leinster feared squandering a 14-point lead in the final quarter to draw with Wasps in Coventry had ruined their hopes of a home tie in the last eight.
Toulouse’ surprise loss has handed O’Connor’s men a reprieve however, and Fitzgerald believes the Dublin province are primed to hit top form.
The 27-cap Ireland centre backed boss O’Connor’s “creative” approach – and warned opponents to beware a raft of stars poised to return from injury.
The three-time Heineken Cup winners could have Sean O’Brien, Cian Healy, Jack McGrath, Zane Kirchner and Rhys Ruddock back in action by the time that European quarter-final rolls around.
O’Brien and Healy’s ball-carrying exploits would certainly transform Leinster’s ability to create an attacking platform, while Fitzgerald believes McGrath is every bit as talented as his more senior loosehead counterpart Healy.
Healy is primed to overcome long-term hamstring trouble while O’Brien is on the cusp of beating two consecutive shoulder reconstructions.
The Lions duo could yet feature in the Irish Wolfhounds’ clash with England Saxons in Cork this Friday night in a bid to prove their Six Nations fitness.
“Cian Healy, Sean O’Brien and Rhys Ruddock – they are three massive ball-carriers for this team, they change how things work for us.
“Zane Kirchner’s coming back too, and those two looseheads: they are probably the best in Europe I would say, we’re pretty blessed in that department.
“It’s all there for us, so I think things are looking pretty good. In the last couple of weeks we’ve executed the coach’s game plan an awful lot better.
“I think he’s a very creative guy and that showed against Wasps in the first half. It’s no surprise to me or anyone who has dealt with the coach that those things are proving difficult to defend.”