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Coach Cullen plays down fears over Fitzgerald's long-term hip/groin injury prognosis

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Leo Cullen

Leo Cullen

SPORTSFILE

Leo Cullen

It was heartening to hear Leinster's Leo Cullen play down growing fears over the long-term career of Luke Fitzgerald.

The extravagantly gifted 27 year-old is in the middle of dealing with the latest setback to his hip/groin injury that required surgery in the summer.

He was a late withdrawal from the PRO12 League match at Treviso on Sunday.

"He was just a bit tight in around the hips. It is about managing it and doing the best for him. It wasn't worth taking a risk," said the forwards coach.

"On another given day with a different individual, we might have taken a different course of action. But we've been conservative with Lukey.

"From a coach's point of view, we're very concerned that if he has any sort of issues, even as late as that, we are prepared," said Cullen.

"Just because of the history we want to make sure he's not being compromised. He had a little bit of tightening in one of the drills."

Fitzgerald was anticipating his first shot at outside centre this season when something went amiss.

"He was literally beside me. He was one of the most vocal guys in the circle at the time. Two minutes later, he is beside the posts getting seen by the doc."

Is it career threatening? "I don't think so, no," returned Cullen.

It is one of those predicaments where the very thing that makes Fitzgerald such a nightmare for defenders, his top-speed change of direction, makes him particularly vulnerable to this injury.

"Listen, he's had an issue with his groin which has been ongoing and it's just one of those niggly things to manage, especially for someone who is able to step at the pace that he is.

SIMILAR ISSUE

"(Mike) Rossy had a similar issue. You saw him. He's played the last three weeks. Lukey is slower because it is mainly to do with position specific and the type of athlete that he is.

"He is a resilient guy. He's come back from a pretty major neck injury which you would think would be of more concern. He has come back from that and had no problems.

"We'll manage him through and see how he goes. Hopefully, we'll get to the bottom of it."

The threat of the premature end to any player's career is the nature of the beast. It is a brutal contact sport which carries a high risk factor.

"If you play rugby, it is an occupational hazard. It is probably something you always have at the back of your mind because it's a tough industry. That is the reality of the game," shared Cullen.

"Eoin O'Malley is not in the game anymore because he's retired. And he got one knock.

"Everyone would have said he's the most likely guy to be Brian's (O'Driscoll) replacement if you wind the clock back five or six years ago and he was retired before Brian."

What about Leinster's other injury observations before The Ospreys come to The RDS in the PRO12 on Saturday evening?

"Where do you start? Obviously Cian (Healy) and Marty (Moore) are still managing their way back, Seanie (O'Brien) as well. They're all after Christmas and into the future."

Shane Jennings is "not a million miles off" from his hamstring , while Ben Te'o is not ready either.

There could be light at the end of the injury tunnel for Fergus McFadden as Cullen rates him "close to being back involved."

There are also issues around which Ireland internationals, involved against Australia, will be released and over hooker Richardt Strauss's hamstring.

The most worrying unknown is the result of the specialist's investigation into the shoulder injury suffered by Rob Kearney on Saturday.

The full-back is vital to Leinster's Rugby Champions Cup plans.


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