Fitzgerald determined to step up for Friend in need

Conor Fitzgerald says he is eager to repay the faith that Andy Friend has shown in him as Connacht seek a return to winning ways against Gloucester in the Heineken Champions Cup (Saturday, 12.45pm, Sportsgrounds).

Fitzgerald determined to step up for Friend in need

Conor Fitzgerald says he is eager to repay the faith that Andy Friend has shown in him as Connacht seek a return to winning ways against Gloucester in the Heineken Champions Cup (Saturday, 12.45pm, Sportsgrounds).

Regarded as second choice — at best — at the start of the season, Fitzgerald has made Connacht tick from the out-half berth this season and after stepping past David Horwitz in the depth chart, he has even usurped Ireland international Jack Carty as first choice in the western province.

The former Munster academy player was back among the replacements for last Sunday’s defeat in Kingsholm, but after Carty had a rocky opening half, the coach turned straight away to the Limerick man for inspiration.

Carty will push hard to become the automatic first choice again, but 22-year-old Fitzgerald knows he has the backing of the coach if he continues to perform.

“One thing Friendy always says is he backs players in form and he picks the team he thinks will win on the weekend,” said Fitzgerald.

“If you’re an in-form player you deserve your start, is what he thinks. I suppose if I keep performing hopefully I’ll be able to keep my spot.”

Fitzgerald was followed by his older brother Stephen to the province last year, and both players seem to have enjoyed the move.

Stephen is ruled out with injury at the moment, but Conor thinks his own progress is largely down to a clearer pathway for youngsters at Connacht.

I’m getting a run of games which I didn’t really get last year, although I had back surgery last year which didn’t help.

"I had a massive block in pre-season to get back fit and when Jack was away at the World Cup, it gave me an opportunity to get those reps in I hadn’t really got in the past.

“When I was in Munster there was four or five lads ahead of me so I didn’t get many reps at all. I was with the academy more than the senior set-up too.

"Last year up here it was a massive opportunity with only two or three lads ahead of me instead of four or five. It was a massive stepping stone for me.”

A former student of Ardscoil Rís in Limerick, if handed a start this weekend Fitzgerald will seek to bring a touch of attacking flair.

“I back my kicking game an awful lot. With Friendy it’s whatever you see off the cuff.

"If you’re in your own half and you see space, he’d rather you move it to the space rather than be conservative and hit the ball away. It’s about backing what you see.”

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