Rugby Union: Debutants eager to put emphasis on attack

FitzGerald primed to supply the flair and vision
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AT ETON College he was "The Cardiac Kid". That was how the Canada outside-half and captain, Gareth Rees, regarded him whenever Seb FitzGerald launched one of his audacious counter-attacks.

The ventricular fibrillations of onlookers and opposition alike were only arrested by the shot of adrenalin that the daring young man's exploits stimulated. Rees coaches rugby at Eton and has seen plenty of wannabes in his time there. FitzGerald, though, made a lasting impression.

"He would try things from anywhere," explained Rees, of the now 20-year- old stand-off who is half-way through a modern languages degree at Oxford University. "Perhaps that is a fault that he will try to run the ball too much from the deep.

"But I am glad he has progressed so far. He is a natural attacker and a great fly-half. He has vision, he sees gaps no one else does. He reads the game so well."And FitzGerald does not deny it. "My natural inclination is an attacking game," he admitted.

This afternoon FitzGerald has a chance to back up that statement when he wins his first Blue in the Varsity Match at Twickenham. Nerves could let him down, but Rees is confident: "There is a tendency for some players to try to shut things down on the big occasion, and hopefully he will be able to take advantage of that."

The man in question is cool about it. "Obviously it will be the biggest game I will have played in but I think once we are out there it will be OK," he said.

And he will not go into all-out attacking mode either. "When possible I try to play quite flat, but obviously, in the Varsity match, field position and territory is quite important so I will have to vary my game according to the state of things at any one time, kicking when required, using the backs when the situation demands."

He has ambitions, among them to have a taste of professional rugby. He has already got a foot in the door at Bath, where he played second XV rugby last season.

The Bath coach, Jon Callard, the former England full-back revealed: "His first game for the United side was, ironically, against Oxford University. He did all right, apart from the interception try he gave away in the first two minutes."

But FitzGerald quickly put that behind him and proved to the old pros that he was prepared to knuckle down and work at his game. Callard again: "He showed a lot of endeavour. He had faults when he came to us, but he has worked on them.

"When he was with us there was not much of him, but for all his lack of size and weight he was a ferocious tackler, he showed no fear, and he was very quick. He certainly has immense potential.

"If I had a criticism of him when I first saw him he could not kick, but he has worked at that aspect of his game. I would not like him to slip through the net, I would definitely like to sign him full-time."

For his part, FitzGerald said: "I'd certainly like to give pro rugby a go, but I am not sure if Bath would be first choice It is a long way from London, so I might look somewhere closer to home."

If he is a muddied oaf in the winter then he could become a flannelled fool in the summer months. He played in the Eton v Harrow cricket match at Lord's in 1998, when he scored 19 before being stumped in a rain-affected draw.

But he has no ambitions to become a double Blue because "my cricket is not up to it." But his rugby certainly is, by the sound of it. Stand by for some heart-stopping moments from the Cardiac Kid.

David Llewellyn