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Friday 9 December 2016

No Luke at all for Schmidt as coach will have to make the crucial calls for opener

Luke Fitzgerald (SPORTSFILE)
Luke Fitzgerald (SPORTSFILE)

Luke Fitzgerald's has been ruled out of the Six Nations in what Ireland Team Manager Mick Kearney described as an "innocuous" incident that will cost the wing 6-8 weeks.

It is the latest in a list of misfortunate breakdowns suffered by Fitzgerald.

He will turn once again to his mental strength to take him through the process of rehabilitation and to deal with the sadness of missing out on another Six Nations.

"He was just doing a tackling drill at The Aviva on Friday in the open session," said Kearney.

"His foot just got caught in the grass and he twisted his knee."

In fact, in the aftermath of the twist, Fitzgerald was deemed fortunate not to have his season ended.

There is compensation there for his province if not for Joe Schmidt, at least until the three Tests against South Africa in June.

"He was very upset, to be honest with you, and probably feared the worst.

"He has had a very good run injury-wise since the end of last season.

"He had a great World Cup and was flying for Leinster right through to the opening session," said Kearney.

It reduces Schmidt's legitimate wing options to Simon Zebo, Andrew Trimble, Keith Earls and Dave Kearney because no one has been called up in Fitzgerald's place.

These are not exactly slim pickings and offer up interesting options as four different types of wings.

The selection posers come down to the second and back rows, centre, wing and full-back. There is a straight shoot-out between Munster's Donnacha Ryan and Leinster's Mike McCarthy to partner Devin Toner in the engine room. The better discipline and fine intellect of Ryan is what could well swing this one his way.

Remiss

It would be remiss to ignore the fact that McCarthy is playing out of his skin for The Blues.

The key to the centre conundrum is where Schmidt sees Jared Payne. There has been an investment of time and teaching to mould the natural full-back into one-half of what Schmidt last season called a "manufactured midfield" with Robbie Henshaw.

Now that Stuart McCloskey has burst onto the scene, there is a viable, even desirable, inside centre available.

This would release Payne to compete with Leinster's Rob Kearney for the full-back role where the latter's strength in the air has always been Schmidt's safety valve at the back.

There would appear to be a straight choice between Rhys Ruddock and CJ Stander to pack down on the blindside with the former favoured.

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