Nigel Carolan’s men will this evening in Viadana bid to become the first Irish men’s side to defeat New Zealand in any grade of rugby and in the process claim a place in the tournament semi-finals.
The only other occasion they reached the last four was last June when they were defeated by eventual winners England, then putting it up to the Baby Blacks in the third-place play-off before the hosts pulled away.
Fitzgerald, whose father John won and All-Ireland minor hurling medal with Limerick, scored three tries after making his debut during the Six Nations.
“When we were young my parents always encouraged us to play everything. I always played hurling and rugby. They integrated because the high ball has helped me with rugby and stuff. Hurling, you have to be so fit to play that as well and I have benefited from that,” said Fitzgerald, who followed in his father’s footsteps into the Claughaun club in Limerick.
Younger brother Conor played for the Limerick minors last summer and this year played a key role as Ardscoil Ris came so close to a first Munster Schools Cup title, while Stephen got a taste of the big time when Anthony Foley threw him in at full-back in a pre-season friendly away to Gloucester.
Coach Carolan rotates his wingers for this evening’s clash, with Queen’s pair Jack Owens and Jacob Stockdale getting the nod. Owens will make his first World Rugby U20 Championship appearance on the right wing with Stockdale coming into the side on the opposite flank.
Carolan has made three changes to the side which beat Scotland 24-20 on Saturday. A planned fourth change had to be reverse yesterday when Zack McCall failed a fitness test on his shoulder, so Seán McNulty continues at hooker. Ballymena’s Adam McBurney, drafted in when lock Jack Dwan’s tour ended at the weekend, is selected on the bench and the 18-year old could make his debut against the Baby Blacks.
Openside flanker Rory Moloney returns to the starting 15 as Ireland bid for their first win in five meetings with New Zealand in this grade.
They wrapped up their preparations in the rain in Brescia yesterday, a massive change from the scorching weather for the two opening games, and it should be a lot fresher for the 8.30pm kick-off this evening.
New Zealand coach Scott Robertson said they needed to improve on the late 32-29 win over Argentina. He said the death of Jerry Collins and his wife in an accident in France — his cousin Tana Umaga is part of the Baby Blacks management — had created an emotional rollercoaster and the All Blacks only just scraped home 32-29 against Argentina.
“We need a huge improvement in a lot of areas... we want to rectify that against Ireland,” said former All Black Robertson, who played three tests against Ireland.
B Dardis (UCD); J Owens (QUB), G Ringrose (UCD), S Arnold (Ballynahinch), J Stockdale (QUB); J Carbery (UCD), N McCarthy (UCD) (capt); A Porter (UCD), S McNulty (UCD), O Heffernan (Terenure College); D O’Connor (St Mary’s), A Thompson (QUB); J Murphy (UCD), R Moloney (Buccs), L Dow (QUB).
A McBurney (Ballymena), L O’Connor (Cork Con), C O’Donnell (Sligo/NUIG), C Romaine (Buccs), S McVeigh (Buccs), C Rock (Old Belvedere), T Quinlan (Cork Con), F Cleary (Lansdowne).