Lions 2013: Simon Zebo zeroes in on Lions Test berth

Simon Zebo

Simon Zebo aims to catapult himself into Test contention when he makes his British and Irish Lions debut against New South Wales Waratahs on Saturday.

With George North a doubt for the first meeting with Australia and Tommy Bowe unavailable until at least the second, both wing spots could be up for grabs.

That means opportunity knocks for Sean Maitland and Zebo, 23, in Sydney.

"Any chance you get to represent the Lions you must do it with pride and put your best foot forward," said Zebo.

"These series don't come around too often, so it is an opportunity for all 23 players involved. It is my first run-out but like all the other lads, getting to wear that special red jersey is an honour and a great opportunity," added the Ireland wing, a late call-up to the squad.

Wales wing Alex Cuthbert, who along with Scotland full-back Stuart Hogg has played the most minutes on tour so far, is rested for Saturday's match at a sold-out Sydney Football Stadium after playing three full games.

Zebo was informed of his Lions call-up last Saturday after helping Ireland to a 15-12 win over the United States in Houston.

That was only his sixth cap, but such was the electric impression he made on his entry into the Test arena this season - notably with his cheeky back-heel flick in Ireland's Six Nations win over Wales in Cardiff - that he was considered unfortunate to miss out on the original Lions squad.

The Munster wing arrived in Sydney on Tuesday after three flights - "and a few fuel stops and delays" - and four days later has an unexpected chance to stake a claim a week before the first Test in Brisbane.

"It has just been nothing but excitement ever since I got out here," he added. "I've had a bit of work catching up on sleep but I am getting there.

"I am expecting a tough physical game [on Saturday]. The Waratahs have one or two players back from the Wallabies and they will be out to get one over the Lions. It's going to be tough, and a hard 80 minutes, but it should be exciting."

Another Irishman daring to dream again after a worrying few weeks is Leinster full-back Rob Kearney, who is set for his first action of the tour off the bench on Saturday.

One of the stars of the last Lions tour to South Africa four years ago, when he came on in the first Test and started the second and third, Kearney is just relieved to still be in Australia.

After pulling up in the warm-up of the Pro 12 final two days before the squad left London, Kearney was diagnosed with a grade-one hamstring tear on arrival in Hong Kong, and feared his tour could be over before it started.

"My timing couldn't have been any worse," said the 27-year-old, who has won 46 caps for Ireland.

"When I was in the scanning machine, that was a low point. I had no idea what the results would be. It could easily have gone the other way. I could have been flying home so it does give you a bit of perspective.

"Then when you see the boys who have had to go home like Cian [Healy] and Gethin [Jenkins] you feel the luck might be on your side.

"I am pretty chuffed the coaching staff gave me the opportunity to hang around for two weeks without having any involvement. I took a bit of confidence from that, even if the other lads think I have been on holiday.

"Getting a chance to put the jersey on again will be a fantastic feeling, albeit it is a little bit late."

While Leigh Halfpenny, who starts on Saturday along with 10 or 11 other likely Test starters, is the undoubted favourite for the full-back jersey in Brisbane, Kearney believes his recovery still gives him a chance of being involved in the series.

"I'd like to think I can push him," he added. "My timing hasn't been great, and his 11 from 11 [kicks at goal against Western Force in Perth] hasn't helped me hugely either!

"But there's a lot to happen yet on this tour. Things can take U-turns pretty quickly and it is firmly in my mind that there is still a challenge there."

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