The case for Simon Zebo’s inclusion in the Ireland squad has been raised again due to the 28-year-old’s superb form for Racing 92 in the Top 14 and Champions Cup.
The former Munster winger and fullback has also been nominated among 14 other players for the European Player of the Year award and he could make the final cut if Racing 92 successfully navigate their Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final at home to Toulouse at the end of March.
The Cork native, since he announced his move away from Munster about 15 months ago, has been omitted from every Ireland squad since.
He admits that he knew what was going to happen but that the coldness and bluntness of his international exile has taken him a little bit by surprise.
“I didn’t think it would be as blunt and cold as it has been so that’s been probably…I knew I was going. I knew what was going to happen. So it’s not that big of a shock. But in terms of how blunt and cold it was, a little bit.”
Zebo believes all he can currently do is play as well as he can and hope that it convinces the Irish management to consider him rather than trying to open dialogue himself.
“No, I’m not going begging or anything,” Zebo said.
“I’m enjoying my life and my rugby. That’s not how it really works I think. If the coach wants to keep in contact with a person to see how they are doing or whatever they put in the effort. They do that, select a person for a squad or whatever so it can’t really come from the player.. say ‘pick me!’ It doesn’t work like that. If it did I’d definitely pick up the phone.”
When Joe Schmidt announced his 38-man Ireland squad for the upcoming Six Nations earlier this month, he name-checked a further 27 players who were close to being included but Zebo was not on this list.
Zebo admits he wasn’t even aware of this and he admits that it probably doesn’t bode well for his chances.
“I actually didn’t even know. But that’s just probably their mindset. Once I’m gone, I’m out. But it was obviously different in the past when Johnny [Sexton] and people were playing abroad and they were very much keeping in contact.
“I suppose different circumstances and different personnel involved so it’s a different situation. I would obviously like to be in the thought process of 50 odd people. I think my form would warrant that, even if there were a couple of injuries but clearly not.
“There are no bridges burnt or anything. He [Schmidt] can go his way and I’ll…”
Often, one of the reasons for Zebo’s exclusion which is bandied about is that he cannot fit into an incredibly structured style of play which the Ireland head coach employs. However, this didn’t stop him from playing 10 times (out of a possible 12) for Ireland in the 2016/2017 season and Zebo himself refutes this claim.
“Yeah, I can fit in no problem. That’s not the issue, there is no issue as regards fitting in. I can adapt to any game plan, I was just saying what would benefit me the most wouldn’t necessarily be to play under a lot of structure and that’s what you’ve seen how I go in France and how I go with Munster when we haven’t had a lot of structure and it’s free-flowing.
“But international rugby, you do tend to need structure to break down teams. It’s not me going up against another team, it’s one to 15, you have to cater for the squad which is totally understandable. What would make flourish better would obviously be less structure, that’s not say I wouldn’t love to play for Ireland or adapt to any game plan that we have.”
Despite his current situation which sees him left out of the Ireland-fold, the 28-year-old hasn’t given up on representing his country again.
“Definitely [want to play for Ireland]. I always have the urge and the desire to play for my country. I’ve had that since I was a small boy. That will never go away I’d say.
“I would be too young anyway to close the door. I’m still only 28. I have a few more years left in me. By the time this contract with Racing is finished, whether I stayed or went, I would still be young enough to decide what I want to do next.”
A-to-Zebo: Irish bookmaker Paddy Power have launched their brand new Six Nations Rugby Ambassador Simon Zebo and the star kicks off his role as a columnist with Paddy Power News (news.paddypower.com) this week.