August 14, 2022

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Luke Fitzgerald believes Leinster are the “team to beat” in this year’s Champions Cup, but...

Luke Fitzgerald believes Leinster are the “team to beat” in this year’s Champions Cup, but says Leo Cullen’s side needs to correct issues that have seen them fall short at the highest level in recent years.
he four-time champions haven’t won Europe’s premier prize since 2018 but they should make a winning start to this year’s campaign at home to Bath this weekend. Their form has been a mixed bag of late, with a surprise home defeat to Ulster followed by a decisive win over Connacht.
“That Ulster fixture, I think they weren’t mentally prepared well,” says Fitzgerald. “I think they thought they’d show up and do the business. We got a better reflection of what they’re about in that game against Connacht. They looked really ruthless in the second half, more like themselves.”
Fitzgerald believes different explanations underpin Leinster’s shortcomings in the Champions Cup over the last three seasons.
“That Saracens team (which ended Leinster hopes in 2019 and 2020) was very, very strong and we know how they became so strong – they were so star-studded. Even still, Leinster probably had enough to beat those teams. They didn’t contain the line speed, they were hanging on to the ball too much, particularly amongst the forwards. When they’re playing well they’re challenging the defensive line, even when there’s high line speed, with ball playing among the forwards.”
Last season’s campaign ended with a nine-point defeat to La Rochelle but Fitzgerald thinks Leinster were “the better team” going into that semi-final. “They were too passive defensively,” he says. “They didn’t deal well with the bigger men. They needed to get off the line earlier and their tackle technique needed to be better.”
Fitzgerald believes Andrew Porter will get the nod at loosehead this weekend head of Cian Healy, while at tighthead he expects another big showing from Tadhg Furlong.
“Is Furlong the best player in the world? I think he probably is, based on the difference between him and anyone else in that position and how important that position is,” says Fitzgerald. “I just can’t believe he hasn’t been selected or nominated for a World Player of the Year award yet.”
The opening round of games has been beset by difficulties already, with Scarlets forfeiting Saturday’s clash with Bristol due to having 32 players stuck in quarantine in Belfast until Friday.
“I’d have played the game,” says Fitzgerald. “If I could field academy players, I’d field them. It’s a great opportunity to see guys playing against the top class.”
Fitzgerald believes Munster can make the most of a difficult clash with Wasps on Sunday, with the squad still split into three groups following the Covid-19 outbreak that occurred during their trip to South Africa.
“What Joe Schmidt did unbelievably well at Leinster was he integrated some young guys with experienced heads at a time,” he says. “That might not be the case for Munster, but there’s loads of opportunity to see people play against top-class players with top-class players alongside them.Maybe we can see something we otherwise wouldn’t have seen until next year.
“There’s enough quality amongst the Munster squad to have a few experienced campaigners who could drag a big performance out of younger guys. It’ll be a difficult day at the office, but I’d always give them a chance.”
It’s more than five years since Fitzgerald was forced into early retirement from rugby following a neck injury sustained in the Pro12 final, and the 34-year-old laughs as he says he’s got “a few extra kegs” on him these days. But the journey back to fitness is under way with his commitment to take part in this year’s GOAL mile, which will take place at more than 150 venues across Ireland this Christmas.“GOAL helps 14 million people,” he says. “We’re all conscious it’s been a tough year, but there are people really struggling across the world and it’s something simple to help out. Let’s all step up together and try help the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people in the world, particularly given how lucky we are here.”
AIB staff member and former Ireland international Luke Fitzgerald at the launch of this year’s GOAL Mile, proudly partnered by AIB
 

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Luke Fitzgerald: I can’t believe Tadhg Furlong hasn’t been nominated for a World Player of Year award yet appeared first on maserietv.com.