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Risk versus reward


Simon Zebo relaxes at Carton House: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Simon Zebo relaxes at Carton House: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Simon Zebo relaxes at Carton House: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Simon Zebo is leaning towards a long-term future at No. 15 for Munster and Ireland

Q: Would you still love the game if you weren't able to play it the way you want to?

A: "No."

This is a window into the rugby mind, even the game soul, of Ireland talent Simon Zebo, the man who has been able to win over hard-to-please Joe Schmidt.

The back-three bamboozler's confidence is up and that makes him a special kind of threat in a green shirt.

"It is one of those things that is in my DNA," he stated.

"I try to offload the ball, I try to keep continuity going and I take risks."

It can be his windfall, as it was for that unforgettable flick trickery to create a try for Cian Healy against Wales in the 2013 Six Nations at the Millennium Stadium.

And it can be his downfall, as it was for a loose offload that hurt Ireland against Australia in November 2014.


"That time Bernard Foley was clever enough to slap the ball back on his side and they scored a try that they probably shouldn't have, considering that we had defenders there that were beaten.

"It's not something that I was given out to for or targeted for.

"It's one of those things that if Foley doesn't slap it down then Johnny (Sexton) could go under the sticks so it was unfortunate enough that they got a seven-pointer off it."

In terms of that game, Ireland were 17-0 ahead inside 15 minutes, this try the spark for The Wallabies to register 20 unanswered points.

The comfort in taking risk comes with the hands-up responsibility of owning it when it doesn't come off.

"I'm happy to take those risks. It's part of my game. I get excited at those opportunities and those possibilities because if you don't buy a ticket you can't win the lotto.

"There's no point playing conservatively and going into your shells. That's my opinion."

Zebo provides something different to everyone else because he is different due to his French heritage.

He has patented 'Irish flair.'

"If it's on, you're allowed to have a go," he stated.

"I think some players go with that a lot and some players play to their own strengths and do otherwise.

"Collectively, we're given licence to go out and play.

"I don't think you'd see Mike Ross throwing skip passes."

It was this outward expression of a 'joie de vivre' that made him a target of French clubs this season, with Toulouse continuously linked with a move for Munster's jewel.

"It is one of those things that thankfully I was happy to put pen to paper and stay here," he smiled.

"Obviously, there was interest from other clubs and those things can delay the progress of signing the deal.

"I was just happy with the way it turned out and I was happy to commit my future to Ireland."

This conclusion could have been muddied were Conor Murray and/or Keith Earls inclined to step outside the island.

These Three Musketeers are central to Munster's plan for the future.

"We've a young crop of players at Munster and keeping the likes of Conor and Keith was very important to our future success and ambitions as a province.

"But, we're fully focused on doing our best for Ireland and that will improve us as players and improve us for when we do go back to Munster."

Where Ireland coach Schmidt may have noted his defensive deficiencies against Wales, Zebo reflected on the positives.

"I played well, I attacked well, I got over the gain-line a lot," he said.

"There was one or two 50/50 high balls I didn't claim.

"But, you know, there is good competition on that Welsh team when you go up for the high ball. It literally is 50/50.

"It just depends on what people consider a good and a bad game.

"In my eyes, I was happy with my performance," he added.


In Schmidt's eyes, the basics of the full-back position start in defence where Rob Kearney has made a stellar career out of his domination in the air and on the ground.

The Munster man has made it his mission to buy into Schmidt's meticulous analysis, ironing out the flaws that can be exploited. The game time at fifteen for Ireland as opposed to life on the wing has opened his eyes to greater freedom of movement.

"I am happy to play either/or. It is probably easier for me to go roaming and looking for the ball at no. 15 as opposed to wing.

"So my preferred position, I am probably leaning towards no15 the more I play there.

"The more time I get to play no. 15, whether it is here or Munster, the more comfortable I will be there."