herald

Friday 24 November 2017

Luke's loss can be Zebo's gain

LUKE Fitzgerald's shot at redemption for Ireland was shattered yesterday when it was confirmed that he won't be available for the Wolfhounds contest with the England Saxons at Sandy Park on Saturday.

The neck is an area of serious concern and must be treated with the greatest of care.

Fitzgerald only has to ask Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll about this.



Niggling

While Fitzgerald is not thought to have a serious problem, it has become a niggling companion that has been difficult to shake.

The left wing was bang-in form for his club this season, culminating in a two-try blast against Bath in Europe.

A problem flared up after the Christmas-time PRO12 League win over Ulster at the RDS. It looks to have scuppered his chances of making an impact in the Six Nations unless Tommy Bowe, Andrew Trimble, Keith Earls or Fergus McFadden fall foul of injury or a crisis of confidence.

As Fitzgerald steps out, Munster's 21-year-old winger Simon Zebo steps into the Irish Wolfhounds squad on the back of his first hat-trick in senior rugby against Northampton on Saturday.

There has always been a buzz of excitement about the Pres Cork speedster and he could be a late bolter for the Ireland senior squad, similar to the fast-tracking of his clubmate Conor Murray at the World Cup.

The exciting Ulster wing Craig Gilroy will fill the hole left by Zebo's promotion to complete the half-dozen young players designated to train with the Ireland senior squad.

Injuries to Ulster loose-head Paddy McAllister and Leinster wing Andrew Conway have created room for Leinster prop Jack McGrath and wing Fionn Carr to make an impression on Declan Kidney.

Meanwhile, Wales left behind their loose-head prop Gethin Jenkins as they travelled to Gdansk, in Poland, yesterday for a week of intense training ahead of their Six Nations opener against Ireland on Sunday week.



Rehabilitate

Jenkins picked up a knee injury from Cardiff Blues' Heineken Cup win over Racing Metro on Sunday. The plan is for Jenkins to join the 34 players at the Cetniewo Camp at the end of the week.

Coach Warren Gatland does have other injury concerns. Out-half Rhys Priestland (knee), Newport-Gwent Dragons flanker Dan Lydiate (ankle) and centre Jamie Roberts (knee) are all expected to rehabilitate on Eastern European soil.

The fear that Clermont-Auvergne full-back Lee Byrne could be ruled out with a thumb injury is unfounded and he will train right through the week.

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