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Kidney: Luke looks part again

LUKE Fitzgerald has everything to play for and less-than-everything to lose.

The 25-year-old was in the process of completing his contract discussions last season when a neck injury halved his income. Eventually, he committed to one season with Leinster.

His comeback has been a long time coming. It has also been worth the wait as he was named in Declan Kidney's extended Ireland Six Nations squad totalling 39 players.

Fitzgerald demonstrated more in his only Heineken Cup match this season against The Scarlets than any of the other options in round five that Kidney has for Ireland in the Six Nations.

"You are never sure how guys are going to come (back) after an extensive period off the pitch. But, Luke has certainly come back in," said Kidney.

"He has had two 60-minute cameos. Well, they've been more than cameos. He has done well in those two periods."

This is something of an understatement given how Fitzgerald returned for an immediate impact against Edinburgh, immediately following this with an official Man of the Match award against The Scarlets last Saturday.

Fitzgerald will have the perfect opportunity to further his Six Nations prospects when Leinster travel to Exeter Chiefs in a do-or-die encounter at Sandy Park tomorrow.

"If he gets the nod for selection this weekend, we will get the benefit of seeing how he goes, just trying to manage his way back in, especially in mid-season," added Kidney.



hardened

"The other guys, his opponents, are match hardened and he's coming in a bit out of the cold. No matter what training you do, it's matches that show how you are playing."

Fitzgerald could have done little more than he has already, considering he cannot be operating at any more than 75pc of his potential.

"What he has done in those two 60-minute has certainly warranted his selection," said Kidney.

Andrew Trimble, Simon Zebo, Craig Gilroy, Keith Earls and Fergus McFadden all bring their own special gifts to the argument of which two should start against Wales in the injured absence of automatic choice Tommy Bowe.

None has the all-round attributes to compare with Fitzgerald, a 23-cap veteran of a British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa with the footwork of Earls and the defence of McFadden.

IRELAND'S EXTENDED SIX NATIONS SQUAD

FORWARDS: J Heaslip (capt), C Healy, M Ross, M Bent, T Court, D Kilcoyne, D Fitzpatrick, R Best, R Strauss, S Cronin, D Ryan, M McCarthy, D O'Callaghan, I Henderson, D Toner, L Stevenson, C Henry, P O'Mahony, S O'Brien.

BACKS: C Murray, I Boss, P Marshall, E Reddan, J Sexton, R O'Gara, P Jackson, I Madigan, B O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy, K Earls, L Fitzgerald, D Cave, S Zebo, A Trimble, C Gilroy, F McFadden, D McSharry, R Henshaw, R Kearney.