Ireland have “no fears” of facing Rugby World Cup action with Ian Madigan as a makeshift scrum-half, according to Simon Zebo.
Head coach Joe Schmidt has gambled on selecting just two scrum-halves in his final 31-man squad, opting to retrain fly-half Madigan as back-up to Conor Murray and Eoin Reddan.
Versatile playmaker Madigan can comfortably operate at 10, 12 and 15, but has never yet worn nine on his back.
An injury to one of Ireland’s regular scrum-halves 48 hours or less away from a World Cup clash could change all that though, with Madigan then stepping up to break new ground.
“I’m sure Ian will be well up for it, he’s a talented boy,” said Munster wing Zebo of Madigan’s positional switch.
“You could put him in anywhere and he’d go through it with ease and confidence.
“You’d have no fears of him going in there.”
Ireland face England at Twickenham on Saturday in their final World Cup warm-up clash, before opening their Pool D campaign against Canada in Cardiff on September 19.
Schmidt has hedged the risk of selecting two scrum-halves against the ease and speed with which either Isaac Boss or Kieran Marmion could arrive at the World Cup in the event of injury.
That theory runs into trouble when set against the regulation that teams are not permitted to make injury replacements 48 hours or less away from a match.
Should one of Murray or Reddan run into trouble one training session away from action then, Madigan will be thrust into scrum-half deputy duty.
Madigan’s jinking feint and cute switch-pass sent Zebo in for an astute try in Ireland’s 28-22 Dublin win over Scotland last month.
Zebo believes it is in those defence-unlocking moments where Madigan outlines the natural aptitude for subbing in at nine.
“I haven’t seen him train there too much to be honest. He’s probably been doing his own thing,” said Zebo.
“He’ll love it if he’s called to go in at nine, he’ll have no issues.
“He’s just a natural footballer: he goes out and expresses himself.
“He’s very talented and no matter where he is, as long as he has his hands on the ball he’s dangerous and effective.”
Schmidt spent Sunday night calling the unlucky players who had missed the World Cup cut, with Zebo relieved not to see the head coach’s number light up on his phone.
The 25-year-old wing has made Ireland’s final squad at the expense of close friend Felix Jones, but Zebo has been at pains not to console his Munster team-mate.
“I haven’t spoken to Felix, I’ve left it alone,” said Zebo.
“He’s one of my best friends up here. I know what he’s like as a person, I know he doesn’t want any sympathy, he just wants to put his head down now and work hard for Munster.
“I don’t think I’ve ever refreshed my email so much in my life, just hoping for something to pop up, but Sunday was a long old day.
“I spent it wisely by chilling out with my family, trying to get them to take my mind off things, and thankfully it worked out well.”