LUKE FITZGERALD HAD just two full games under his belt this season when he was called into action against the All Blacks on Sunday.
Replacing Brian O’Driscoll in the 53rd minute, the former Blackrock star could have been forgiven for showing signs of rust on his first international appearance since the 16th of March [against Italy]. However, the only indications were of a man built for the big occasions.
Fitzgerald has long seen himself as an outside centre, it’s where he feels his skills are best employed. His 30-minute cameo suggested exactly why the 26-year-old is ready to step into O’Driscoll’s shoes when he decides to retire.
Leinster team manager, and former Ireland international, Guy Easterby believes that Fitzgerald has the complete game required to play at 13 at the highest level.
We’re looking for a long-term successor to Brian and Luke’s got to be right up there in terms of the queue behind him. He’s got the skills set for there. Defensively, he’s very sound. Physically, he’s really sound. He’s got a great passing game as well, great feet.
He’s got everything that a top 13 needs.What he probably needs [now] is some game-time there. He’s played a good bit on the wing throughout his career and a bit at full-back, as well as spending a bit of time at 13/12.
“He certainly has the ability to do it.”
Fitzgerald is a Grand Slam-winning Lions tourist who has 27 caps for his country. With those achievements comes an attitude of superiority. Not to suggest that Fitzgerald is a cocky player, but rather that games like that on Sunday are where he feels he belongs; the occasion does not over-awe him.
There were snippets of his defensive skills at the Aviva Stadium, particularly the excellent turnover penalty he won against Ma’a Nonu [above] after the All Blacks midfielder slipped in Ireland’s 22. There was also a stand-out tackle on Kieran Read at the other end of the pitch, when Fitzgerald intelligently slapped down the No. 8′s hand-off before putting the shoulder in.
These were only snippets of Fitzgerald’s ability, and there were glimmers of his excellent footwork in attack too. He still has much to prove in Leinster’s blue and further down the line, Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne will look to block his international path.
Some players have to wait a little longer than others to demonstrate their true calibre, and Fitzgerald might just be in that bracket.
Do you think Fitzgerald’s future lies in the centre? Is he the eventual successor to Brian O’Driscoll?
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