One player’s injury is another’s opportunity and nobody understands that more than Ireland tight head prop Declan Fitzpatrick.
The front rower’s career has been blighted by injury but with John Afoa currently sided lined Fitzpatrick is in a position to lay down an early season marker.
“It’s known that I have had a difficult couple of seasons with injury and haven’t been able to get a run of games, when I have played I proved I can do it but I just need a run of games,” said Fitzpatrick.
“I think a few of those niggling injuries I picked up would disappear if I got a run of games and my body gets hardened to it, it’s unfortunate John has had an injury but it is good for me.”
“I’ve been involved in four games now and hopefully can build on it.”
“It wasn’t little injuries that were a problem because everybody picks up niggles it was two big injuries, the first was a freak accident I got whiplash from a scrum that went to early, the second was I got knocked out in training but I’ve just got to look forward.”
“I’m doing a few different things in my training, I’m feeling a lot better about myself and I’m feeling healthier and if I get a run of games and get myself into proper match fitness.”
Injury has probably cost Fitzpatrick the chance to the five Irish caps he has won.
“There are opportunities there that’s no secret but there is also some good competition, there are some good players coming through in other provinces so it is just not a case of me getting fit and getting in there, I’ve got to be playing well and scrumming well and that’s what I’m aiming to do.”
“There are a lot of good players here and that is keeping me on my toes so hopefully I can get some good performances under my belt and things will happen for me but I’m just concentrating on Ulster at the moment.”
Fitzpatrick feels Ulster just have to get on with the new scrum laws.
“We realised early on that we are just going to have to embrace it because you could complain but you’d just be left behind other teams , I think it has suited us as we have a very good back five.”
“Clarkey (Allen Clarke) started early with us with our technique and we have proved over the last few games that we are quite competitive in that area, every week it’s evolving so we’re just trying to push ourselves forward, there are a lot of good players here so it’s a good battle every Tuesday when we go out for scrummaging practice.”
“It will be a good challenge against Connacht because they have a pretty good scrum and it will be a good test under the new laws.”
“There is a lot more pressure going through the scrum and they are longer so there is a higher reliance on your scrum fitness, during the week we’re doing a lot more.”
“I think the stats will show that a lot more scrums will stay up, I’m not sure the hookers would feel they are any less vulnerable in there because you’re in there a longer time and there is a difference to scrummaging now, people are so much bigger and stronger and there is so much pressure going through that the margin for error is smaller.”
“If it works and the scrum does stay up and there is more ball being played it is bound to be a good thing and as props in the northern hemisphere we just want to go over the top of each other, I’m sure the backs are happier they are getting more ball.”
“The art of hooking has definitely come back into it, you have to strike and be in a good position to do that. There is an opportunity now on the opposition ball when the hooker lifts his foot you can attempt to get one against the head.”
Ulster have only two bonus from their opening two games and Fitzpatrick believes the Irish derby with Connacht has come at the right time.
“We all felt we had a good pre season and we’re all in really good shape, the team is really healthy but that is not the start you want to get off to, it is what it is but if we hadn’t created opportunities in the last two games we’d be in a far worst place than we are today.”
“Against the Dragons it was a poor performance, we were away from home and we let them get a sniff of the game and didn’t put them away but against Glasgow we created opportunities and we just needed to finish them.”
“Those are the little margin of errors and if we can get that right we’ll be find by the end of the season.”
“This week, you don’t need to get up for an inter-pro, you don’t motivated for that hard, they is a great motivation knowing we could do with the win, it’s not a great place to go they are a very strong side with a good pack, they will be abrasive and their tails will be up knowing that we coming a little bit wounded.”
“It’s going to be a real battle up front and whoever wins the forward battle will take the spoils.”
In spite of the poor start Fitzpatrick knows there are still 20 league games to put it right.
“Maybe the start highlights some weakness in our team that we need to work on, sometimes you can go through games and get the luck of the bounce, I think the last two games have shown us what we need to be focused on.”
“Our set piece has been good, our defence has been good so if we can convert those margins and cut out the personal errors we’ll be fine.”
Fitzpatrick was named in Joe Schmidt 42 man training squad for the autumn internationals and he would love another crack at the All Blacks.
“November is always in the back of your mind and when you’re Irish you just want to play for Ireland, if I get myself right and am performing well for Ulster I know that Ireland will have to a good look at me.”
“I’m concentrating on Ulster, my performances, staying fit and getting match fit so if Ireland call I’ll be ready for it.”
“I’d love another shot at (Tony) Woodcock, he maybe didn’t know too much about my the last day but he might have worked me out by now.”
“You only have one career and you want to pit yourself against the best, I can’t be thinking too far ahead I just have to take it week by week.”