LUKE FITZGERALD SCORED his first Leinster hat-trick for five years — the second of his career — and yet Brian O’Driscoll was awarded man-of-the-match.
For a player who has overcome two serious knee injuries and a neck injury that threatened to cut short his playing days, you felt Fitzgerald could do with the accolade more than the feted O’Driscoll. The winger laughed off the Sky Sports snub as he spoke to the sports broadcasters after a comprehensive 40-7 win over Northampton.
“In the grand scheme,” he said, “those things don’t really matter. In fairness, Brian was a little bit sick before the game so, as per usual, it was a warrior’s performance from him. He led from the front so I’m not really surprised.”
Fitzgerald’s trio of scores — and it could have been for if Sean Cronin had not popped him a forward pass — were his first of the season. He has five starts under his belt and showed, last night, why his old provincial coach, Joe Schmidt, wants him in the Ireland set-up.
His previous hat-trick was against Edinburgh in 2008 and was during a season in which he scored nine tries. The dot downs have been less frequent in recent years but Fitzgerald’s form may see him get an extended run out left in the coming months. The number 13 jersey, not for the first time, can wait.
The 26-year-old was delighted with his side’s emphatic win but, typical of his team’s winning mentality, rued some missed chances to hit the half century mark. “The boys know that we have to get our feet back on the ground pretty quickly and get focused for next week,” he added.
“They’ve a lot of dangerous guys out there and, from their standards and the guys that they are, they’ll bounce back pretty quick.”
Having scored 27 unanswered points on Saints in the second-half of the 2011 Heineken Cup final, Fitzgerald confirmed his team were not prepared to sit on their 26-0 half-time lead at Franklin’s Gardens.
Having towed the party line about teamwork and regaining focus for next week’s return clash at Lansdowne Road, Fitzgerald was then asked which of his three tries stood out. A spilled chance for another score was the first moment that came to the mind of the Wicklow native’s mind. “I’m going to get killed in the video [review] room,” he joked.
“It was great to get on the scoresheet,” Fitzgerald added. “It’s been a while and the lads were giving me a bit of stick during the week so thank God I got over for a couple.”
For a couple, read ‘a few’ although Fitzgerald was not the only person in Northampton on Saturday struggling to keep track of the score.
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