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Fitzgerald Will Relish Loftus Battle

Fitzgerald Will Relish Loftus Battle

Luke Fitzgerald reckons that playing in the cauldron of Loftus Versfeld can bring out the best in the Lions as they try to level the Test series against South Africa on Saturday.

Ian McGeechan’s men are certainly up against it, down 1-0 in the series, having to adjust to conditions at altitude and facing a Springboks side that is sure to be sharper and more match-hardened than they were last week.

But Luke Fitzgerald, one of seven Irishmen named in the Lions team for the second Test, is undaunted by the prospect of the pressurised atmosphere in Pretoria.

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“South Africa have a great record in Pretoria and definitely there’s massive pressure from being one down in the series but the last thing you want to do is go out and tighten up,” he said. 

“The Millennium Stadium is the most intimidating place I’ve played and Loftus is a bit of a cathedral too, but these are the cauldrons that can bring the best out of you.”

A Grand Slam and Heineken Cup winner this year, Fitzgerald was eager to impress the Lions coaches from day one but injury and illness combined to slightly derail his bid for a Test spot.

A knee strain and chest infection kept the young Dubliner out of the first two matches of the tour, before he made his bow at centre in the win over the Cheetahs.

During his time off the pitch, he remained positive and gives much of the credit for this to his sports psychologist, former Armagh Gaelic footballer Enda McNulty.

Phone calls with McNulty and his family, including his father Des, the former Ireland prop, helped him keep the negative thoughts at bay.

“It was difficult. I had a lot of time to myself and that’s when negative thoughts can creep into your mind.

“But I got some good advice from Enda who helps me out with sports psychology and all the advice from him and from home was very positive.

“He was telling me that it’s a long, old trip and anything can happen and to just keep plugging away and now I’ve got an opportunity in the second Test.”

Fitzgerald was ever-present during Leinster and Ireland’s title-winning campaigns and admitted that fatigue was likely to have crept in at the tail-end of what was only his third season with Leinster.

“I think it (the injury and illness) was a culmination of a pretty long season, I played over 30 games and it was pretty trying on the body.

“It was a bit of a shock to the system, but the (medical) boys took me aside and gave me a few days to recuperate.”

Now back to full fitness and raring to go after a solid night’s work against the Emerging Springboks, the 21-year-old is determined to play his part as the Lions chase their first Test victory since the 2001 tour to Australia.

Fitzgerald will line out in an all-Irish back-three, alongside his Leinster team-mate Rob Kearney at full-back and his Grand Slam-winning colleague Tommy Bowe on the right wing.

“My family will come out to South Africa this week so it will be nice for them to catch up with them and be close to me for such an important moment in my career.

“They have always been there for me and I’m just delighted to be given the opportunity to play this weekend,” he added.