Joe Schmidt’s already compromised selection options dwindled further yesterday, just five days before Ireland’s Six Nations opener at home to Wales, with confirmation that injury has erased Luke Fitzgerald from his plans for the tournament’s entirety.
Fitzgerald, who suffered the injury last Friday when his foot got caught in the turf during the squad’s open training session at the Aviva Stadium, will be inactive for somewhere between six and eight weeks and he is just the latest player to be prevented from featuring in the championship.
Peter O’Mahony, Iain Henderson, Marty Moore, and Tommy Bowe are the others preparing to look on from the stands this next two months due to injury while Moore’s fellow Leinster props, Mike Ross and Cian Healy, are unavailable for Sunday’s opener against Wales at the least.
With Paul O’Connell also retired from the Test arena, Schmidt’s resources are worryingly slim up front for the weekend though, with no replacement hailed for Fitzgerald, there is clearly the belief that ample firepower remains in the back line reserves.
Speaking on Newstalk’s Off The Ball last night, Fitzgerald revealed that he was frustrated by the timing of the injury rather than the extent of it.
“I think I’ve been on a pretty good run injury-wise for a while now. It’s kind of become common enough to get an injury of this kind of length at some stage during a year. I think this is my one,” Fitzgerald remarked.
“I hope this is my one for this year, and I have a clean bill for the rest, because there’s a pretty important part of the season to go with Leinster.”
The 28-year-old damaged his knee in last Friday’s open training session at the Aviva Stadium. This is normally a very light session, but as Fitzgerald explained, Joe Schmidt and forwards coach Simon Easterby decided to increase the intensity of the work-out - because a number of players had been idle the previous weekend.
“It was actually a tough enough session as it turned out, because some of the guys there hadn’t played last weekend, and weren’t going to play this weekend just past. From Joe’s perspective, and Simon’s perspective, they wanted to do just a small little hit out for guys. It’s was kind of a pretty bold tackling drill, and I just got caught awkwardly. Yeah, I was very, very annoyed at the time,” Fitzgerald added.
Fitzgerald may or may not have made the starting XV this weekend, but he was a player enjoying a superb run of form that stretched all the way back to the World Cup quarter-final against Argentina, when he scored a try as a replacement and aided in another.
“Yeah, he certainly would have been in the mix,” said Ireland team manager Mick Kearney.
“He played really well when he came off the bench against Argentina and maintained that form. He played a lot at 12 for Leinster over the last number of months so he certainly would have been the forefront of Joe’s thoughts.
“Whether he would have got picked or not is difficult to say. There is a lot of competition with Andrew Trimble, Keith Earls had a fine World Cup as well, Dave Kearney has played very well for Leinster. But, from a squad point of view and even leadership point of view, Luke’s a big loss to the squad.”
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