THE LUKE OF CHAMPIONS; IRELAND V ENGLAND RBS 6 NATIONS, CROKE PARK, DUBLIN, TONIGHT, 5.30PM Fitzgerald Aims to Keep Slam Bid Alive but Knows English Will Be Tough to Beat
Byline: BY MICHAEL SCULLY
THE aura that surrounded England teams as they arrived in Dublin for championship collisions has gone.
But Luke Fitzgerald still insists that Ireland cannot afford to listen to the critics who have written off Martin Johnson's men.
Ireland's magnificent victory over their old rivals two years ago at Croke Park has set the tone of expectancy among home fans but Fitzgerald - man of the match against Italy two weeks ago as the Grand Slam bid continued - stresses that Declan Kidney's charges are not buying into that.
"That's a very dangerous perception to have," said the 21-year-old Leinster winger.
"England are always going to be a really tough team to beat whether they are going through a good phase or a bad phase.
"They always seem to have a massive pack - and as Declan always says, the game is going to be won or lost in the pack and probably the scoreline is going to be decided by the backs.
"On that basis they're going to be a really tough team to beat because they have a really tough pack."
For Fitzgerald, it's more pertinent to look back on last year's 33-10 loss to England at Twickenham than what occurred the year before.
England steamrolled a poor Ireland on that day and Fitzgerald said: "Last year they fairly hosed us but an awful lot has happened since then, both teams have come on.
"There's an awful lot of different personnel involved so I think it's going to be a different game."
Fitzgerald was involved in last year's game but it is only since the baton was passed from Eddie O'Sullivan to Kidney in the aftermath of that poor Six Nations that he has nailed down a regular place in the backline.
He first burst on to the test scene as a 19-year-old, making his debut in a game against the Pacific Islands.
But the man seen as Brian O'Driscoll's natural successor has had to show patience in his bid to establish himself.
It has helped him that his father Des was himself an Ireland international of some stature - and told him he would have to be realistic and bide his time.
"I think I've done that and I'm delighted to be given the opportunity, especially given the amount of competition that is still competing for the place,"
Fitzgerald said. …