Fitzgerald hungry to replace Clarke

Date published: January 8 2014

Chiefs lock Mike Fitzgerald has his eyes set on replacing departed lock Craig Clarke in the engine room this season in Super Rugby.

Chiefs lock Mike Fitzgerald has his eyes set on replacing departed lock Craig Clarke in the engine room this season in Super Rugby.

Clarke, the Chiefs former co-captain, lead the side to back-to-back Super Rugby titles but is now plying his trade in Ireland with Connacht.

That has left a space in the second row alongside rising All Black lock Brodie Retallick for the Chiefs to fill, with Fitzgerald, Matt Symonds and Ross Filipo all candidates.

“Last season I got a lot more game time and there was a period there where Weka [Clarke] was injured for a bit and I think I played about five games in a row and went pretty well there so, hopefully, I can continue that on and step up another level,” Fitzgerald told Fairfax NZ News.

“I need to be a big presence like Weka was, hitting rucks etc and hopefully I can get his spot.

“I've got young guys and whatnot nipping at the heels so we push each other pretty hard and it's obviously going to be a big battle for that spot with Brodie.”

Symons, the 24-year-old English-born lock, has particularly impressed Fitzgerald with his fitness work in pre-season.

“[Symons] is pretty good mate, he smashes that fitness stuff and he's a big boy while there are the old heads like Ross Filipo who has been there before and has got quite a bit of experience so obviously he's a good option to be in there,” added Fitzgerald.

Assessing his options alongside Retallick, Chiefs coach Dave Rennie praised Symons and Fitzgerald whilst acknowledging the challenges of Filipo and possibly Kane Thompson to also grab the free spot, whilst also commenting on the impact of Clarke on the Chiefs.

“Matt Symons really impressed us before Christmas,” said Rennie.

“He set a PB and broke the Chiefs' record for the yo-yo so he's a good athlete, and then you've got Mike Fitzgerald who's obviously been with us for a couple of years, is incredibly reliable and has gone bloody well for us.

“We also see Ross Filipo now more as a lock and he gives you that experience we lost with Craig [Clarke leaving] and even Kane Thompson when he gets back from Japan may well play eight but may also play lock, so we've got a couple of very experienced lineout specialists there so it's great competition to go with Brodie Retalick.

“[Clarke] just pushed the boys hard and got the best out of everyone, I think.”

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