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Sunday 23 September 2018

Easterby: Luke Fitz the bill at centre

Leinster's Luke Fitzgerald. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Leinster's Luke Fitzgerald. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Leinster team manager Guy Easterby. Picture: Brenday Moran/Sportsfile

LEINSTER manager says back can fill a hole for club and country

LUKE FITZGERALD could make the smooth transition of Ireland's number 13 jersey from Brian O'Driscoll to soon-to-be Ireland qualified Jared Payne a sticky proposition.

That is the opinion of Leinster team manager Guy Easterby. Leinster are looking to their succession plan, just as Ireland are too.

Can Fitzgerald be the answer to the problem for club and country? "Can he be? Absolutely! He certainly has the ability to do it," said Easterby.

"I think he's got the skills set for there. Defensively, he's very sound. Physically, he's really sound. He's got a great passing game as well, great feet. He's got everything that a top 13 needs.

"What he probably needs is some game time there. He's played a good bit on the wing throughout his career and a bit at full-back, as well as spending a bit of time at thirteen-stroke-twelve."

This is one of those cases where Leinster's problem is Ireland's problem too. Ulster's Payne knows the game and plays it better than most on this island. He is also versatile, able to play equally well at 13 and 15.

In terms of versatility, the same can be said of inexperienced 20-year-old Robbie Henshaw at Connacht. All three need to concentrate on one jersey sooner or later with a view to the 2015 World Cup.

In fact, Henshaw signed a two-year contract extension yesterday for the western province, keeping him under their lock and key until the summer of 2016.

This was smart business by their coach Pat Lam, who has made it his mission to tie down his players long-term, joining highly talented scrum-half Kieron Marmion, especially given the fact that Henshaw, the former Westmeath minor footballer could have been open to moving East.

It was interesting to note how Ireland coach Joe Schmidt made a straight swap, bringing Fitzgerald in for the concussed O'Driscoll, leaving Tommy Bowe out on the wing on Sunday.

"We're looking for a long-term successor to Brian and Luke's got to be right up there in terms of the queue behind him," said Easterby.

"He has had his injury setbacks. He's probably stronger for that, if that makes any sense," said Easterby.

Positive

"It is amazing when you still see him bouncing into the place having a real positive attitude and wanting to play.

"The guy has missed a lot of rugby through those injuries. But, he wants to play. I am not surprised because when you miss that much every minute counts."

Twenty-six-year-old Fitzgerald needs game time in the outside centre channel. He may get that against the Scarlets this weekend with Brendan Macken, 22, making steady rather than explosive progress.

The dearth of options in this specialist position at Leinster is such that you have to go all the way back to the first year of the academy to find the next realistic prospect behind Fitzgerald and Macken in last season's excellent Thomas Farrell, just turned 20 last month.

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