Thursday 27 October 2016

Back-to-basics Zebo gets thumbs up from Horgan to be No 15

Simon Zebo
Simon Zebo

Shane Horgan is convinced Simon Zebo is "very close to being complete at full-back."

The willingness of the Munster flyer to absorb the issues observed by coach Joe Schmidt and to apply himself to the foundations of the position has impressed Ireland's former wing.

"My issue with him was - maybe similar to what Joe has been - he wasn't quite getting his basics down-pat," he said.

Horgan has noticed a transition from emergency option to a legitimate alternative to the unbelievably consistent Rob Kearney.

"His skills set is quite remarkable," offered up Horgan.

"He's capable of producing the phenomenal pass. He tries to do something almost every time.

"He has a phenomenal left foot. His passing range is excellent."

The news coming through from Camp Ireland is that Kearney has been hindered with a minor tear of the glute determined by a scan.

Undoubtedly, this places in jeopardy Kearney's fitness to face Italy.

In fact, there is little chance Schmidt will force the situation, risking a serious tear, in order to preserve Kearney for Sunday week.

"Given that Rob Kearney does have a knock and given the level he's playing at, I don't think it would be an issue at all for him to step in and play this week," said Horgan.

It is, however, the ominous threat posed by France that will most concern Schmidt, despite the refusal to countenance anything beyond The Azzurri.

This is guaranteed by the likelihood their talisman Sergio Parisse could return to man the middle of the back row.

The impact of his return cannot be overstated. Italy are a different animal with the Stade Francais number eight leading the charge.

Italy's rudderless attack is unlikely to cause too much trouble for the Irish full-back, whoever it be.


However, the gargantuan pack of French forwards will win enough ball to test Ireland's defence.

The problem comes in how they use the ball and from the identity of their out-half.

The odds lean towards the retention of Freddie Michalak as the primary playmaker. Although the much-travelled veteran has something of a flaky reputation when the heat is turned up, he does have a real box of tricks to draw on, including a variety of kicks.

"Even if Rob's injury was more serious, I think there would be a lot of confidence in starting him at fifteen going forward in the tournament," said Horgan.

Zebo is changing opinions as seamlessly as positions.

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