Thursday 14 December 2017

Gatland throws down Test gauntlet to Zebo

Simon Zebo in his Lions jersey
Simon Zebo in his Lions jersey
Conor George

Conor George

LIONS coach Warren Gatland has challenged Simon Zebo to force his way into the Test team for the opening match against Australia tomorrow week.

Zebo arrived in Australia only on Tuesday but he is set to make an immediate impact after being named in the starting team for the game against the Waratahs tomorrow.

Gatland has wasted no time in selecting him and with concerns growing over George North's availability, the Ireland wing might benefit.

"Simon has nothing to lose," said Gatland. "He's sat down with the coaches and we've gone through what our expectations of him are.

"It's there for him, as it is for a number of players."

Gatland declined to confirm which players are injury concerns at this stage but did admit that the first Test might come too soon for some players. North's possible absence, coupled with Tommy Bowe's, could open the door for Zebo to force his way into the Test team.

"There are one or two carrying knocks and while they might be fit the week of the first Test, it's possible it could be too late in that week for them to be considered," added Gatland.

"Simon has the personality to come in and make a strong impact. He has really added something to the group and if he plays well on Saturday he will absolutely put his hand up for selection for the first Test."

Gatland also all but confirmed that Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell will be in his Test team.

He singled out the special treatment the Lions coaches are affording Ireland's veterans in terms of managing their playing and training programmes.

O'Driscoll is "a bit sore" after doing the splits at the end of Tuesday's game, according to the coach, and is rested this weekend while O'Connell starts his third game of the tour.

Gatland insisted that O'Driscoll's fitness is not in doubt for the first Test.

"Brian could play on Saturday. But if he plays and gets another knock that would rule him out of contention for the Test match," said Gatland.

"He's 34 now and we've spoken about managing him. He's been great so far on tour and there's no reason to start him this weekend.

"We spoke to both Brian and Paul O'Connell. These guys have been around for a while and we have to make sure that we manage and are smart about how we use them.

"They don't need to play every game or take part in every training session.

"We need to make sure they're fit for when those Test matches come around."

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