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Fitzgerald inspired by centre pair
26 Jan 2015 11:11
Luke Fitzgerald is ready to emulate the defensive zeal of his "hard man" Leinster mentor Brian O'Driscoll in Ireland's RBS 6 Nations campaign.
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The 27-year-old is cautiously optimistic he can finally put an injury-riddled 2014 to bed, and channel the grit of Ireland totems O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy.
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Fitzgerald's fine form after prolonged groin trouble makes him a prime candidate to start Ireland's Six Nations title defence in the centres in Italy on 7 February.
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Leinster's versatile back-line operator learned his trade under long-term centre partners O'Driscoll and D'Arcy, and is now determined to bring that experience to bear.
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"I just watched Brian for a long period and we were pretty close. I was defending outside Drico for a long time," Fitzgerald said of Ireland's now-retired record caps holder.
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"You pick lots of different things from different guys.
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"For me, always D'Arcy was the best to watch, because of his footwork and the stuff he could do. He's a dream to defend outside. He makes really good reads.
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"When he's in the mood, there's no better player to defend with. His lateral movement is just huge. Anyone who has the capacity to do that and read the game well... he's fantastic to watch.
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"And obviously you learn a lot off Drico. For me, as a player, the thing you learn about him is that he honestly had the biggest balls - not from the showers - but when things got tight, his top 10 per cent, his head: that was the stuff you learned from Drico.
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"He was just a hard, hard man, and that was the stuff I loved about playing with Drico.
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"All the fancy stuff, you can take all that; he's the guy you want to go to war with.
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"So that's what you learn off those two guys - great players."
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Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne will be Ireland's other midfield front-runners - fitness permitting. But, despite rich form, Fitzgerald remains "careful not to get too ahead of myself".
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Fitzgerald's 27 caps seem paltry for a player who won a British and Irish Lions Test bow in 2009, but the former Blackrock College man is just relieved to be back fit.
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The utility back spearheaded Leinster's rearguard grit in Saturday's 20-20 Champions Cup draw at Wasps that saw Matt O'Connor's side sneak into the quarter-finals.
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The Dubliners will now host Aviva Premiership club Bath at the Aviva Stadium in April after Toulouse slipped out of the tournament altogether through defeat to Montpellier.
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Last year's persistent groin problems had Fitzgerald pondering early retirement, hence one half of his caution - the other reason for measured reaction to good form is Ireland boss Joe Schmidt.
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The taskmaster head coach is no fan of his players talking up their own credentials - the former Kiwi schoolteacher calls the shots.
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So when Fitzgerald tempers his delight at the end of his injury concerns and his drive for a Test return, he is making a clear point not to meddle in Schmidt's business.
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The Leinster three-quarter admitted he does not yet know whether he will be called upon for the Irish Wolfhounds clash with England Saxons in Cork on Friday night.
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"I'm excited but careful not to get too ahead of myself at this stage," Fitzgerald said. "I just couldn't get back in time (for the autumn Tests) and it literally took 10 months to get the injury sorted.
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"I feel really good now, though. It's a great place to be, and I'm really excited about it. I'm always cautious with Joe, in terms of shouting too much.
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"I'm happy to come under the radar. I think I'm playing well but I don't know where I'll be in terms of positioning with Joe. I don't know where he sees me but I'm just happy to be in the squad and to have given myself a shout.
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"It's all up to Joe, of course. He's very clear - when you're picked, you know. I'll just go in and train as hard as I can, and train as well as I can. It's very important to train well with Joe."
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