12 Dec, 14:42
Prop Cian Healy is expected to miss the start of the 2014 RBS 6 Nations after undergoing surgery on his injured ankle on Wednesday.
"I think the autumn finished on a very positive high for the whole squad of international players who were used over the three matches. They set themselves a target of being consistent all the way through even though they had to substitute other players in the squad in various matches. Then they went back and maintained a certain level of performance in a very competitive environment, in a tournament that's emerging as a fabulous tournament."
"I think there's more depth in the squad and we can thank the Heineken Cup for that because players are getting exposed to foreign and international opponents on a far more regular basis." "It has given some of these players, particularly those from Leinster and Munster further impetus in their confidence and in their used to winning factor', which I think is very important."
"I also think this Irish team has developed a certain mental toughness that maybe wasn't there before but obviously is now and that's another factor that leaves them in a good readiness at the start of this Six Nations."
"In terms of fitness the game has gone up several notches, there's no question about that. It's nearly unrecognizable in terms of its professionalism and that has allowed us catch up with the other nations. I think Liam Hennessy has done a tremendous job in this regard and it bodes well for the future."
On the question of five games in six weeks and how it will impact on the squad, Fitzgerald believes Ireland will cope. "I think it's do-able. If you think in terms of a tour where you have Test games lined up along with mid-week matches, it's do-able. You're in the environment of full professional training camps all the time. What's needed between the matches is rest and recovery and that would be the key one, and maybe a mental rather than a physical focus in the preparation." "Where I see a downside maybe, is in the injury front. There isn't time to recover. Ireland probably doesn't have the depth in the squad that say England or France have and that's where we could suffer in the this scenario. A couple of key injuries could put all our forecasts into the dustbin."
"I think everyone agrees that the opening game is so important. The Scotland game has been a banana skin for quite a while now and again it will be yet another test for this team but I think they're ready for it. I think they're mentally strong enough. Scotland play with this frantic intensity, this real physical intensity. Really, really aggressive, in-your-face stuff. And this is what has unsettled a lot of the Irish teams in visits in the past. But I think they're tougher, harder now mentally, and mentally is a crucial area. I think they'll be ready for Scotland."
"I think this team will want to chalk up another one. That is, getting rid of this monkey that's there about not beating Scotland. They've done it already with some of their other performances. There was France a while ago in Paris and more recently the win over Australia.
Recent suggestions from former coach Warren Gatland, that Brian O'Driscoll is not the best man to lead the side were dismissed by Fitzgerald. I think it's unfair, very unfair on Brian O'Driscoll. He's a young captain. He's starting out on his career. He has a different style; every captain has a different style. But one thing is crucial. He has the respect of the players. He leads by example himself which is a top priority. I also feel he can use the likes of Anthony Foley who was the suggested alternative as captain. There are a lot of good senior players who are out there and every captain - no matter how good you think you are - need those senior players who will run the game in their own department. In this squad there are a lot of players who are together for quite a while now and they'll take the responsibility as well. So I think it's unfair to Brain, I think he's done an excellent job so far."
"The Scotland game offers a host of opportunities, besides just disposing of the monkey. If things go right for us, it opens the door. It gives great challenges and great incentives. They've France and England at home, if it comes to the wire, say if England beat France next Saturday then you'd have them coming here in March maybe for a championship or Triple Crown decider. I wouldn't bet too much on England in that situation."
"One of the strengths of this Irish team is that there is not just one area where they are strong. I think they have a very good attacking option out wide. With the backline they have, they have plenty of pace. Peter Stringer gets that ball out there quicker to use that pace. But also, against Argentina they were tested up front and the forwards came out with full marks. So I think this team has more options than it had before. All the team is contributing and that's the sign of a good side. I couldn't see any reason why Ireland would lose this match. I definitely think they'll win."