Zebo still dreaming of place on the big stage

Ireland wing Simon Zebo will go into tomorrow’s tour match against the Melbourne Rebels still firmly believing he can find a way to earn a place in the British and Irish Lions’ Test side later in the series.

Zebo watched the opening Test in Brisbane on Saturday from the stands as wing rivals George North and Alex Cuthbert made big impressions in the 23-21 victory over Australia, while another, Ireland team-mate Tommy Bowe is also back in the mix.

Yet the 23-year-old Munster wing is determined to make the most of his final opportunity on tour to make himself a must-pick player for the remaining two Tests. Zebo was yesterday selected for tomorrow’s last game against provincial opposition at Melbourne’s AAMI Park in a side to be captained by England lock Geoff Parling and also featuring four of the Lions bench — Dan Lydiate, Geoff Parling, Richard Hibbard and Dan Cole — that helped beat Australia in the first Test.

Also among the starters are Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray and flanker Sean O’Brien, who is returned to openside flanker after two games at blindside, and full-back Rob Kearney, who plays his third match of the tour.

Owen Farrell starts at fly-half while Manu Tuilagi plays his first game since sustaining a shoulder injury against the Queensland Reds on June 8 and will partner England team-mate Brad Barritt in the centres.

All will be out to prove a point and Zebo said there was not a hint of taking the game lightly.

“It’s not as easy as playing a weekend game but you’re still getting a chance to go out and represent the Lions so it’s something you can’t take lightly.

“You would like to think there is always a chance. If any player plays out of their skin or has just one of those special days out on the pitch then you obviously have a chance. Hopefully I’ll be able to do something along those lines on Tuesday.”

Despite the selection rivalry, Zebo could not help but be impressed by the performances of North and Cuthbert in the first Test on Saturday, as well as Australia’s two-try debutant wing Israel Folau.

“Unbelievable, special,” he said of the Welsh wings. “They are two very talented players and you can’t afford to give them space or they’ll hurt you pretty bad. Their size, power and pace is unbelievable.

“I’d watched (Folau) a bit and there is a lot of hype about him down here. I had a chat to a few of my buddies down here and he is a very talented player. He seems to be talented at everything he does and he is one of those in the same bracket as George and Alex; you just can’t give him space or he’ll hurt you bad.”

More immediately, there is Lions’ pride on the line against the Rebels tomorrow as a strong tourists’ team sets out to avenge last week’s loss to the Brumbies in Canberra, when Zebo was a late replacement in the 14-12 defeat, a first win by a provincial side since Northern Transvaal in 1997.

“We can’t afford another loss. It will hurt the squad hugely. It’s already hurt the squad; there were a lot of people upset and (long) faces throughout last week. We were lucky to get the win yesterday coming off a defeat like that so we can’t afford to let that happen again.”

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