LEINSTER COACH MATT O’CONNOR told TheScore.ie this week that Fitzgerald’s versatility made him a definite option in the centre.
The Australian will also be looking to Brendan Macken to step up to the mark and prove he can take the Heineken Cup heat.
The departures of Isa Nacewa, Fionn Carr and Andrew Conway mean Fitzgerald’s skills may be needed in the back three but it must not be forgotten that Munster dangled the ‘centre’ carrot at the Wicklow native. With Fergus McFadden stressing his desire to play on the wing last season and Eoin O’Malley forced to retire at 25, O’Connor will hope Macken can draw some heat off the Brian O’Driscoll legacy debate.
Macken featured 12 times for Leinster last season and scored three tries. He was given a chance to impress in the early months but, like other young teammates, paid the price of the hefty away defeat to Connacht. Joe Schmidt dipped back into the ‘A’ side to give him run-outs over the festive and Six Nations periods.
O’Connor started Macken in the 13 jersey against Ulster on Friday and the Dubliner is hoping to feature against Northampton Saints next weekend.
He told TheScore.ie, “Eoin’s retirement hit the squad hard because he was such a leader. He’s a couple of years younger than me and is a centre so he would have helped me a lot. He’s a huge loss to the squad.
“Every game and every training session is an opportunity to impress Matt and the other coaches. That’s the same as every season. He is a new coach and new into our system but this is the time where you can impress him.”
Brendan Macken wants to make his mark in Europe this season. ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Macken was part of the Leinster A’s British & Irish Cup-winning squad but declares he is targeting glitzier away days destinations than St Peter’s [Jersey] and and Sardis Road [Pontypridd].
“It’s time to break into the side more,” he said. “I haven’t played Heineken Cup rugby yet so that’s definitely a major goal, and to become a regular in the team.”
Despite the fact that a versatile and in-form Fitzgerald can bump him down the pecking order, Macken is delighted to see his senior colleague back and close to full fitness. He said, “It’s great to see Lukey back and playing. He’s a terribly competitive guy so that’s great to see in the squad.”