LUKE FITZGERALD has assured Leinster fans that there is no need to reach for the panic button after an unconvincing start to the Magners League.
The two-time league champions have lost two of their opening three games this season with the one win coming at home to Cardiff thanks to two late tries from Fergus McFadden and Ian Madigan.
Not exactly the start new coach Joe Schmidt would have wanted.
“Michael Cheika picked up an awful lot of flak in his first year and look how he did,” said Fitzgerald who has played every minute to date. “Guys need to be given time to impose their philosophy, how they want the team to play, and you have to give them time to do that.
“You can’t just say ‘we’re three games into the season, so guys aren’t going to panic now’. It’s time for everyone to just relax, take a step back and say, ‘listen lads, there’s not a whole lot going wrong here, we’ve just got to up our accuracy in a few areas and things hopefully will go right for us’. It’s that simple, really.”
Schmidt has targeted an improvement in the side’s attacking game and, in particular, the timing and accuracy of their passing. Heads-up rugby is the ambition after the more pragmatic approach of Cheika’s final few seasons.
The latest raft of law changes should suit that approach. Recent evidence from the Tri-Nations would suggest as much and Fitzgerald believes Leinster will grow and mature as a team by doing so.
The rigid management of game time allotted for Ireland’s internationals can’t help a new coach who is attempting to introduce new ideas and a new style of play but there isn’t much players or coaches can do about that.
“We all want the national team to do well and the national management feel that’s the best way to benefit the team and make the team play well for the World Cup next year, for the Six Nations and the November internationals. So, look, that’s the situation we’re in and we have to deal with it at this stage.”
Schmidt’s plans weren’t exactly helped by the quad injury which Jonathan Sexton picked up during the warm-up prior to the Cardiff game two weeks ago but the out-half may yet feature this weekend against Edinburgh.
A decision will be made on Sexton and Devin Toner’s fitness tomorrow. Of greater concern is Sean O’Brien who has been cited for allegedly making contact with the eye area of a Benetton Treviso player in the 62nd minute of the 29-13 defeat. The hearing will take place today in Ravenhill and adds an unwanted postscript to what was a hugely disappointing first trip to Italy on Magners League duty.
Leinster travelled minus a number of their front-line players but the likes of Rob Kearney, Gordon D’Arcy and Eoin Reddan did make their season debuts so Fitzgerald doesn’t believe a lack of leadership was a problem last weekend.
“I wouldn’t say it was. Personal responsibility comes into this. Guys have to be able to get themselves up for a game. Just because Brian O’Driscoll or Jonny Sexton isn’t playing doesn’t mean you can’t play well. That’s not the way it works. Personal responsibility comes into play. Everyone didn’t play well, we didn’t play well as a team, but I wouldn’t put it down to personal responsibility, no.”
Should Sexton require a further week on the sidelines, it will again fall to the inexperienced Ian Madigan to steer the ship from the number ten cockpit. It is a big ask for a player with limited exposure at this level and in a side fighting for form.
“I’m actually good friends with Ian. I played rugby with Ian through school and he’s a really talented guy. You can see that as plain on the nose on anyone’s face. It’s right there in front of you.
“He’s done really well. He hasn’t played at this level before and he has had only very limited exposure. Obviously the team hasn’t gone great but it’s very tough when the team isn’t going great and you’re playing at out-half.”
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