Luke Fitz the bill for castres
Leinster wing makes welcome return as Castres lose Kockott and Lamerat
Castres Olympique v Leinster
Pierre Antoine, Tomorrow
(KO 1.0 Irish time Live Sky Sports 3)
Luke Fitzgerald returns from the wilderness of his latest rehabilitation programme to be installed on the left wing for Leinster against Castres tomorrow.
"His ability to beat defenders, his physicality, the threat he has on the edge - all those things are enormous for the group," said coach Matt O'Connor.
"To be going away to France in a really important Pool game to have him out there fresh is a huge boost.
"We thought that gave us a little more potency out wide.
"He's trained incredibly well over the last two weeks. He's a class act. He's a quality footballer.
"We don't see the need to stick him into an A game when there was a top-flight game that he was ready to play in.
"Ian (Madigan) has been fantastic for us at twelve all season and that distribution and ability may expose Castres a little bit wider out. That was the thinking.
"When you consider the bodies that we don't have, it was a pretty easy choice".
The choice does come with a warning. The tendency for Fitzgerald to pick up lasting injuries colours the outlook for the future.
"We've been really patient with him. We've given him the opportunity to get his body right and time to get his head right," considered O'Connor.
"Thankfully, he's had the opportunity to work through that process over the last two or three years. He's spent a lot of time rehabilitating himself from injury.
"And last year, which is all I can really comment on, when he was in and out of the programme, every time he was in, he was in 100%. He was outstanding.
"When he came back into the programme, he was absolutely brilliant in regard to his detail and execution on the field.
"That is all I can gauge him on. He was first class".
Fitzgerald isn't completely clear of the woods yet. There is no guarantee the groin/pelvic injury that has kept him away from the game since March will not return.
"It's probably more of an ongoing issue," admitted the coach.
"We've got to stay on top of it. We've got to manage the amount of volume that he does, certainly in a training sense.
"It's going to be ongoing for him for the next 12-18 months to make sure that he's doing everything he came to make sure his groin and pelvis stay healthy.
"It is a thing he has to commit to every day. His dedication to that has been first class".
While this cut-throat business does not veer into the realm of being a popularity contest, there will be a feel-good factor over the return of the Ireland international for one simple reason.
"My experience is that anyone who is really, really good is usually liked. Yeah, from that end, he's quite popular," dead-panned O'Connor.
"He doesn't shy away from playing. He's at my door every whenever he's fit telling me he wants to be involved. From that end, it is a bit of a rarity in the modern game.
"He's very front-foot. He wants to be involved. It's a huge luxury to have as a coach".
The import of lock Kane Douglas and scrum-half Isaac Boss as the second and third changes from the Wasps game was done on the basis of "freshness".
Tight-head Mike Ross and full-back Rob Kearney were outside the loop because O'Connor believes it is essential the players are 100% right for what is expected to be a super-physical contest.
O'Connor contradicted the indication from scrum coach Marc Caputo, earlier in the week, that new Australia coach Michael Cheika could make a move to engage in discussions for a "special circumstances" release for Douglas ahead of the upcoming World Cup.
"They won't change their policy. It would be the end of Super Rugby in Australia if they are going to pick blokes from abroad. I can't see it happening," he said.
Castres have made five changes from the team that made Harlequins sweat at The Stoop.
There is no Rory Kockott. There is no Ibrahim Diarra. There is no Remi Lamerat.
"It's largely irrelevant for us the fact that they is no Kockott and no Lamerat," reported O'Connor, unmoved by the news.
"There is no shortage of quality there. There are a little down on the X factor but I don't think it's going to be that sort of game.
"They are going to be very direct and very abrasive and back their set piece to try and get moment and try and get points from there".