Monday 25 September 2017

Zebo in frame for full-back as Jackson gets surprise call

Simon Zebo. Photo: Sportsfile
Simon Zebo. Photo: Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

SIMON ZEBO has emerged as a contender to fill the Ireland full-back vacancy left by Rob Kearney's back surgery.

The Munster winger was named as one of three options by assistant coach Mark Tainton yesterday and he will fight it out with clubmate Keith Earls and Ulster's Tommy Bowe for the No 15 jersey to face South Africa on Saturday week.

Declan Kidney called seven additional players into his squad to train at Carton House this week, but there was surprise that none were recognised full-backs.

After his try-scoring performance for Munster last Friday night, there was some expectation that Felix Jones would be fast-tracked back into the squad, but the Ireland management want to give him more time at his province before he returns to the international fold.

That leaves three players whose favoured position lies elsewhere vying for this crucial position.

Speaking last week, Kearney said that a full-back who faces the Springboks will be tested by the amount of ball they kick deep.

Corkman Zebo has never started a game at full-back for Munster or Ireland, while Bowe is better known as a winger. Earls has won four of his 32 caps for his country at full-back, but is struggling to come back from a groin injury.

Another talking point at Carton House yesterday was the decision by Kidney to promote Ulster's Paddy Jackson to the squad ahead of Leinster's Ian Madigan and Munster's Ian Keatley.

With Ronan O'Gara battling a hamstring injury, there could be a potential vacancy as Jonathan Sexton's back-up and Tainton said that the coaching team had confidence in the 20-year-old.

"Paddy has been going very well for Ulster, playing week in, week out. He came off the bench last weekend, but apart from that, his game management has been very good. It is an opportunity to see him, he's the in-form player and that's the reason why we brought him into camp.

"We know Ronan's been carrying a hamstring injury for the last couple of weeks. He is going to train fully today or tomorrow. Whether he goes back to play for Munster will be decided later in the week."

Leinster's kicking and skills coach Richie Murphy said Madigan had reason to feel disappointed but that the 23-year-old's chance would come if his recent form continued.

Having operated at full-back in recent weeks, he looks likely to start at 10 against the Ospreys on Sunday.

"Ian is obviously playing well and we are delighted to still have him this week. But he can't be too far away.

"The big thing for Ian is that as long as he keeps playing well he is keeping himself in the shop window. Although he is not in that panel, this week is an opportunity for him to stake a claim.

"For all players, even the internationals, there are things to improve on and Ian is no different.

"I think it would be unfair of me to say the stuff that he needs to work on because that is between ourselves and himself.

"He has shown versatility and has done well at 15. This weekend he will more than likely be in the 10 channel and we're looking forward to seeing how he goes."

Irish Independent

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