Keith Wood delights in Simon Zebo’s return as he adds depth to ‘awkward’ position

Keith Wood Simon Zebo

Keith Wood has lauded the return of Simon Zebo to the Ireland squad, as the Munster man will add much-needed depth at full back.

Zebo is in line to play for Ireland for the first time in over fours years next month, having spent three seasons with Racing 92 in the French Top 14, ruling himself out of international contention in doing so.

The Cork native was in great form while playing in France, and has impressed in his first two appearances for Munster this season, albeit on the wing and not at full back.

Former Ireland captain Wood was speaking on Off The Ball and admitted he was relieved to see Zebo included for next month’s tests, as head coach Andy Farrell does not have many options to him available at full back.

Keith Wood on Simon Zebo.

“Zebo had to come into it because he has the x-factor. Yes, he’s pushing on and we often want to look for change but he also has a huge level of versatility about him. He has the capacity to play at fullback or on the wing,” Wood said.

“If we’re being honest, fullback has been a slightly awkward position for Ireland for their last period of time. We’ve tried a few people in there and none of them have quite ticked all the boxes.

“I love Hugo Keenan. I love watching the way he plays, I love the fact that he has been very, very secure but I would have said we tried [Jordan] Larmour and Jacob Stockdale there for a period of time. And we are only ever one injury away.

“I’m very happy to have Zebo back in the squad to know that we have a different threat.”

Ireland’s options at full back.

While Keenan has nailed down the number 15 shirt for Ireland since international rugby returned after the pandemic-enforced break, there is certainly no clear successor to the Leinster man at full back.

Larmour and Stockdale have been trialled at full back in recent times, while Andrew Conway is also able to cover the position, but all three are primarily seen as wingers for both their province and country.

Zebo has often played on the wing as well, but he has plenty of experience at full back, and offers more of an attacking threat from deep than Keenan and his predecessor Rob Kearney.

Keenan is likely to remain as Farrell’s first-choice full back, but it certainly wouldn’t be surprising to see Zebo given the 15 shirt in one of Ireland’s three tests against Japan, New Zealand and Argentina next month.

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