Fitzgerald ruled out for rest of season

Leinster will have to plan without Luke Fitzgerald for the rest of the season.

The talented back has been suffering severe neck problems and will undergo an operation in the coming weeks which rules him out of the Heineken Cup final and Ireland’s 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, not just for the team and our supporters, but also for the player himself,” said Leinster coach Joe Schmidt.

“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.”

But Leinster must overcome his loss and will do so in an unforgiving environment tonight. Far from the glamour and glory of Bordeaux last Sunday they take to the field at Rodney Parade for a last round RaboDirect PRO12 fixture that means little or nothing to either team.

The Heineken Cup champions have already assured themselves of a home berth in the semi-final next week. Their Welsh hosts lie three places off the bottom and the only matter of note for them is that it will mark captain Luke Charteris’ last game with the club.

Wing Aled Brew is another saying his farewells but it is surely a Leinster team that boasts a staggering 15 changes from six days ago that has more in the way of motivation as players eye up possible supporting roles for the Heineken Cup decider.

Of the starting XV, only three saw any action against Clermont Auvergne last weekend while the vast majority of those who participated in the epic 19-15 win against Vern Cotter’s side are rested.

“I’m looking forward to putting down a marker,” said Devin Toner who was an unused replacement at the Stade Chaban-Delmas despite the advanced years of Leo Cullen and Brad Thorn in the second-row.

“It’s real old school over there. We were talking about the away dressing room. It’s very, very cramped and it’s not the best place to play.

“It’s very hostile, the crowd really gets behind them. It’s not the most glamorous place to play, but it’s a real test of character.”

The presence of the 6’ 9” Charteris in the opposing ranks invariably invites comparisons with Toner who stands two inches taller but the Irish lock insists he has no inclination to follow the Welsh international’s lead and seek new pastures even if last weekend’s inactivity did rankle.

“I was disappointed at not getting on but, the way we have progressed as a squad, I suppose everyone has to deal with it.

“We spoke about it earlier on in the year. If you are not picked, it’s how you react to it, to the players around you and the rest of the team.

“Everyone who hasn’t been picked has acted accordingly. No-one is moping around the place, no-one is feeling sorry for themselves.”

DRAGONS: H Amos; W Harries, A Hughes, A Smith, A Brew; L Robling, W Evans; N Williams, S Parry, N Buck; L Charteris, R Sidoli; D Lydiate, L Evans, T Faletau.

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, D Ryan, L Auva’a.


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