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Monday 5 December 2016

Irate Fitz' shoots from the lip

Fitzgerald wants the three-year residency rule to be abolished

Luke Fitzgerald
Luke Fitzgerald

Luke Fitzgerald was holding court in Dublin just as news filtered through of Bundee Aki's three-year contract extension at Connacht.

Presumably, the New Zealander's decision to turn down multiple offers from England and France has been partly made with qualifying to play international rugby for Ireland.

Quite simply, Connacht and Ireland have secured the services of a brilliant, inspirational player, who will increase Ireland's chance at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.

That is what made the former Ireland international's opinion on the three-year residency rule even more pointed.

"I think it's wrong. I deliberately have given a short answer. I think it's wrong. I know that's controversial," said Fitzgerald, about the rule that has allowed Ireland to employ 'project players' with the mid-term view to wearing the green shirt.

WORRYING

It was put to Fitzgerald that a high number of non-Irish qualified players capped by Joe Schmidt is a worrying trend.

He went out of his way to emphasise this is not an opinion held against the players themselves, men like CJ Stander, Jared Payne, Rodney Ah You, Quinn Roux.

"It is no reflection on those guys," he continued. "They're doing everything within the rules. But, I'd like to see Irish guys in there.

"Are we not good enough to fill the spots? I don't know if there's a big enough gap between Irish guys and those guys to really justify it?

"That's what I feel about it," he offered.

The recent rise of Ireland's Age Grade competitiveness has been reflected at the Under-20 World Cup where they made their first ever final in the summer.

There is real talent coming through the system, illustrated by the impact of Joey Carbery, Garry Ringrose and Dan Leavy for Leinster in Montpellier.

"Garry (Ringrose) looks an awesome player to me, Robbie's (Henshaw) a brilliant player, Stuart Olding, Luke Marshall," he went on.

"Johnny Sexton's still our best player - he's an Irish guy. Seán O'Brien, Cian Healy, Jack McGrath, there are loads of great players there.

"I don't know if being born in a different part of the world makes you a better player.

"They're not making those international teams. Why would we be taking them?

"Is that an admission we're not as good as them. I'm sure it probably is."

This raised the issue about whether or not there could be a knock-on effect on team morale.

Can the dilution of pure Irishness lead to a dilution of Ireland?

"I don't think so. Everyone in there is just looking after themselves," he disagreed.

"From a team perspective, it won't affect things at all.

"They'll be focused on their own job, on the game that weekend.

"The guy next to them isn't really their concern, or shouldn't be.

"You have to focus on your own job in international rugby. It's too fast, with too many good players opposite you."

Fitzgerald was good enough for it not to matter.

Or so one would presume. That was not the case.

"Would it affect me if there was a guy from another place getting picked ahead of me?

"I've been in that spot. It does pi** you off, definitely it does," he stressed.

The Greystones man was not inclined to reveal the player he was alluding to.

Although, he is on record as making no secret of the fact he wanted to succeed Brian O'Driscoll as Ireland's outside centre, a slot manned by Payne for the last two seasons.

"You've come all the way up through the internationals, through the system.

"Then, all of a sudden, some guy comes in and is perceived to be better because he's from a different place."

Fitzgerald understands World Rugby vice-Chairman Agustin Pichot's crusade to have the residency rule either abolished or, at least, extended to five years.

"I think he has a really good point. It really dilutes it for me. I mean what's the point," he said.

"It's like Barbarians versus Barbarians. Why do that? I don't understand that.

"It diminishes it for me, now I'm a spectator, I can say that.

"I much rather see the Irish team versus the New Zealand team, or whoever it may be," he concluded.

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