Inpho/Billy Stickland Fitzgerald started at 13 in Leinster's defeat at Thomond Park.

'It's up to the players' - Fitzgerald defends 'brilliant' Leinster coach O'Connor

Fitzgerald says the province have ‘lot of smart guys’ in their backroom, but the players must improve.

LUKE FITZGERALD BELIEVES the onus is on Leinster’s players as the province looks to turn their form around in the second half of the season.

The Ireland international also defended head coach Matt O’Connor, who has come in for criticism from supporters and sections of the media for his side’s stuttering form over the course of the current campaign.

A comprehensive defeat to Munster in Thomond Park on St. Stephen’s Day has only added to the current sense of negativity around Leinster.

Fitzgerald says the next month is the crucial one for himself and his teammates this season, as they look to reward the hard work of O’Connor and his coaching staff of Leo Cullen, Richie Murphy and Marco Caputo.

Leinster’s injury problems are finally starting to ease, and Fitzgerald has called for the playing group to turn the season around.

We’ve just had so many bad injuries, it’s been a tough time for Matt,” said Fitzgerald this afternoon in UCD. “He’s had a real tough time, I feel bad for him. He’s a brilliant coach, a really bright guy, so hopefully we can put in a couple of good performances.

“He really deserves it. He’s an outstanding coach, a really bright guy. There’s a lot of respect for him among the player group, so we owe him a couple of big ones. We’re very disappointed with that game against Munster.

“Obviously they deserved it and we’ve no complaints about that, but we’ve a couple of complaints about our own performance. We’re looking to right a few wrongs this weekend against Ulster.”

Matt O'Connor and Leo Cullen Dan Sheridan / INPHO Matt O'Connor and Leo Cullen at Thomond Park. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Following Saturday’s inter-provincial clash with Neil Doak’s outfit at the RDS, Leinster travel to Cardiff in the Pro12 a week later, before two Champions Cup ties against Castres [home] and Wasps [away].

The coming weeks are “make or break” for the province, according to Fitzgerald.

“This next period is really, really important for us, these next four games. We’re fifth in the league, one behind the team we’re playing at the weekend [Ulster], so this is obviously a big opportunity for us to move into the top four.

Then we’ve got those two Heineken Cup games. It’s a really, really important period and it’s season-defining at the end of the day. We’ll be judged on this month block, and rightly so.

“It’s up to the players to put in good performances for the coaches, who are working really hard. They’re smart guys. There are a lot of smart guys in that office making up good plays, saying all the right things, doing all the right things.

“We’ve got to start doing those things on the pitch now, producing something. It’s up to the players.”

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