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Dublin: 9°C Tuesday 13 April 2021
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World Cup hangover no excuse for Leinster's European slump, says Luke Fitzgerald

The Ireland international says the province’s European hopes aren’t over just yet.

Fitzgerald spoke about his role at inside centre.
Fitzgerald spoke about his role at inside centre.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

LUKE FITZGERALD ADMITS settling back into the Leinster set-up from World Cup duty hasn’t exactly been seamless but the hangover from the tournament isn’t a reason for the province’s European plight.

Leo Cullen’s side face an uphill battle to progress from Pool 5 of the Champions Cup after beginning their campaign with back-to-back defeats.

With so many of the internationals being integrated back into the side by Cullen for the start of the European season, many believe Leinster have been caught cold in the first two games.

The humbling loss at the hands of Wasps in gameweek one was followed by Saturday’s 19-16 reversal to Bath at The Rec. It leaves Leinster’s European hopes hanging by a thread.

But Fitzgerald is adamant the squad can’t use it as an excuse, despite saying the reintegration process has been difficult.

“It’s tough for guys to come back into a set-up having been in a different place for three or four months,” he said on Monday. “A different coach, different game-plan and it is tough to come straight back in and for everything to be seamless.

“If you look at Toulon, it was a pretty uncharacteristic performance from them and some of it was probably down to that as well as they had a lot of guys at the World Cup so maybe it it a factor but it’s really hard to know those things.

“I think everyone here was pretty fresh and hungry for the game but we just didn’t perform to the best of our ability and everyone’s pretty disappointed with that. It’s hard to put it down to one or two things.”

With home and away assignments against the European holders on the horizon for Leinster, the outlook, with every game now a must win, isn’t particularly bright.

Luke Fitzgerald Fitzgerald in training on Monday. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

But Fitzgerald maintains that the squad will fight until it’s mathematically impossible for them to advance to the quarter-finals. If the heads drop, there’s no chance of coming away from the December fixtures with the points they need.

“Until it’s impossible to get out of the group, we have to maintain a very positive mindset and believe in ourselves because we’ve a couple of really tough fixtures coming up in that competition that we have to really well in.

“It is good that we have a tough challenge this weekend, huge challenge, an interpro always a big challenge. It’s a short turnaround to turn things around.”

After a brief video analysis session on the visit to the west of England, Leinster’s attention immediately turned to Friday and the return of the Pro12. The players returned to the training paddock at UCD with a determination to right the wrongs of previous weeks.

Rob Kearney is set to return to the fold for the visit of Ulster and Fitzgerald admits the game is hugely important for a number of reasons.

“It’s really important, they’re only one point behind us and at the RDS I think the people are looking for a better performance,” he added.

“Last time they came out we obviously didn’t do ourselves justice and we didn’t do them proud which is something we always try and do and that’s very very disappointing.

“We want to have the place rocking again and have the crowd up on their feet and enjoying the rugby we’re playing and obviously performing and winning games there.

“It’s good to have a huge challenge against Ulster this Friday.”

Fitzgerald started Saturday’s defeat at inside centre alongside Ben Te’o and when asked about his role at 12, he admitted it’s a position he wants to nail down going forward.

“I’m looking to get a bit of time in there,” he concluded. “Obviously, you have to keep playing well to do that, so that’s the challenge for me.

“It’s a position that suits the attributes I have, so I’m really enjoying it there, obviously not enjoying losing there.

“But I’m really enjoying playing there and, like I said, it’s a place that I like to play and I could see myself playing there going forward.”

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Ryan Bailey

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