Luke Fitzgerald has been biding his time for this chance. Playing in the centre for Ireland, alongside Brian O’Driscoll, and with New Zealand as the opposition. The 20-year-old’s second senior start for his country cannot come quick enough.
Named at number 12 in the Ireland team for Saturday’s Test match in Wellington, the New Zealand media did not wait long to hail Luke Fitzgerald as the next Brian O’Driscoll.
Ironically, the pair will be in situ in Ireland’s midfield at the Westpac Stadium and as world rugby knows, there is only one Brian O’Driscoll! But certainly this is a good chance for Fitzgerald to make his mark on the world stage.
Since he made his Ireland debut against the Pacific Islanders in November 2006, in the last ever international at the old Lansdowne Road, the young Dubliner’s international chances have been limited.
Three appearances as a replacement have followed against Argentina (2007 summer tour) and Wales and England (both during the 2008 Six Nations). During his second full season with Leinster, Fitzgerald has played more often on the wing or at full-back than in the centre.
His form during the province’s Magners League-winning campaign was undeniable – he finished as their joint-top try scorer with six league tries and also claimed the Leinster Young Player of the Year award.
Now keen to make his mark with Ireland, Fitzgerald’s first run at the All Blacks midfield is probably playing over and over in his mind.
Asked about his prowess as a centre, he admitted: “Getting my hands on the ball is the most enjoyable aspect of playing at centre. I feel that you can have a bigger impact on the game from centre, whereas you’re more of a bystander on the wing.
“With my background as a full-back or winger, I’m probably seen as more of a strike player. But I’d like to think I have the capability to use my hands as well.”
Fitzgerald’s distribution was very good during last week’s win over the Barbarians. He put in some decent hits during the game, including one which saw him dump former Wallaby Stephen Larkham into the turf. So is he daunted by the prospect of facing Ma’a Nonu this weekend?
“I think I’ve come on an awful lot in defence and think I showed that in the Barbarians game, so I’m not too worried about that part of the game,” he insisted, taking a barrage of questions from the media in his stride.
With his father Des, the former Ireland prop, having played against the All Blacks in 1989, Fitzgerald talked about his long-time admiration of New Zealand rugby and the players who have impressed him in the black jersey.
“Growing up, I was always a big fan of New Zealand rugby. Dad played against them once and he was always a big advocate of how they played the game. They always seemed a step or two ahead.
“They play a great brand of rugby, fast and exciting with quality players. It’s great to be playing against them, to be honest.”
He added: “I remember Walter Little, in the centre, he was a great player. I know (Frank) Bunce played at 12. They were fantastic players and I learnt a lot watching those guys.
“Of recent All Blacks I think Conrad Smith is a really good player. Tana Umaga was fantastic to watch as well.”
Good as the aforementioned players were or may be, there is only one player who Fitzgerald would have playing alongside him for this much-anticipated game at Wellington’s ‘Cake Tin.’
“Brian’s one of the best centres in the world, he’s great to play with. He is a fantastic player as well as a great leader. His work ethic probably goes unseen. They’re the things that rub off on young players like myself.”