Fullback Simon Zebo has the ability to inspire Ireland to an invaluable victory over Italy at London’s Olympic Stadium on Sunday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
It’s been a difficult week for Zebo, who was granted compassionate leave to attend his grandfather’s funeral, but by all accounts the Irish team has rallied around the talented fullback since his return to the squad.
Zebo was outstanding in Ireland’s last match against Romania, and will be looking to provide that same sort of creative spark in what is sure to be an emotional outing for the talented 25-year-old.
Zebo slots into a new-look backline, with the return of Robbie Henshaw in a reshuffled midfield also sure to be a key aspect of this clash.
A good victory for Ireland would enable them to move ahead of France at the top of Pool D, but a loss would allow for third-placed Italy to remain in the hunt for a play-off place.
The Italians have received a massive boost with the return of inspirational skipper Sergio Parisse, who missed the first two games because of injury, and his ability to immediately perform at full steam will be crucial to his team’s cause.
Italy were unconvincing victors over Canada last weekend, and they have also reshuffled their side as they search for a formula to trouble the strongly favoured Irish side.
ZEBO’S STATS THAT MATTER
20 – Tests played
35 – Test points scored
102 – Metres made on attack against Romania
2 – Clean breaks against Romania
HEAD TO HEAD
Ireland 20, Italy 4
Ireland – 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Paul O'Connell (c), 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Jack McGrath.
Subs: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Nathan White, 19 Devin Toner, 20 Chris Henry, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Luke Fitzgerald.
Italy – 15 Luke McLean, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Simone Favaro, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Josh Furno, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Andrea Manici, 1 Matias Aguero.
Subs: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Michele Rizzo, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 Alessandro Zanni, 20 Mauro Bergamasco, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Carlo Canna, 23 Tommaso Benvenuti.
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant referees: Pascal Gauzère (France), Angus Gardner (Australia)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)