Wednesday 14 November 2018

Zebo regrets celebration but little else about his Parisian adventure

 

Racing 92’s Simon Zebo goes to apologise to Michael Lowry after the game. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Racing 92’s Simon Zebo goes to apologise to Michael Lowry after the game. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor at Paris La Défense Arena

A prolific user of social media, Simon Zebo is fully aware of the storm that is circling as he enters the press conference room with a sheepish look on his face.

Racing 92's space-age stadium is all about entertainment, but judging by the po-faced reaction to the full-back's celebration of his try in Saturday's win over Ulster, rugby still isn't ready to embrace all the elements of 'Le Showbiz'.

All evening, he looked desperate to get on the scoreboard on his first outing against an Irish team in blue and white, but when he did he got a bit carried away and wagged a finger at winger Michael Lowry before touching down and heading to the corner to dance with the cheerleaders.

Chastised by referee Nigel Owens, he subsequently apologised to his opposite number on the field and then went to the visitors' changing room to offer his jersey as a further act of contrition.

Ill-feelings

"I feel s**t, but he's a lovely fella," he said of the incident. "As soon as I went over to apologise, he was very receptive, we'd a good chat after the game. There's no ill-feelings."

He has guaranteed himself a frosty welcome when he visits Belfast for the return fixture in January, but the incident shouldn't mask the fact that this was the Ireland international's seventh try in seven starts.

Having reviewed all of the Parisians' games this season, Ulster coach Dan McFarland reckoned this was their best performance to date and it put them in full control of Pool 4.

For Zebo, facing an Irish team was extra special.

"That's still a grudge match, a derby match, for me regardless of whether I'm in Racing colours or not," he said. "I would have hated to lose to them more so than losing to a French team so I'm just happy we got the win."

In a parallel universe, Zebo's form would make him a shoo-in for selection in Joe Schmidt's Ireland squad for the November internationals which is expected to be announced tomorrow or Wednesday.

His decision to swap Cork for Paris, however, has effectively removed him from the international equation and - while he wants to be involved - the full-back hasn't heard from the coach in a year and is at peace with his position.

"No, no. Down the line I would probably have to solidify my form. It would have to be a whole season long, I would have to score a try every single game, be man of the match… that's the way it is," he said.

"I haven't talked to people back home (in the Irish set-up) in about a year now. If there is no communication coming one way I know the deal so I am not going to sit around crossing my fingers. I'm just going to keep enjoying my rugby here.

"Of course, it would be a dream to play for Ireland again. It's very much a candle still burning in my mind. I've always loved wearing the green jersey and until I hang up my boots I'll always still have the desire to play for my country."

Zebo has never made a secret of his desire to move to France and sample life in the Top 14 and he is relishing the change of lifestyle as much as anything.

He looks to have filled out a little since making the move and concedes that the lure of the local cuisine has been hard to resist, but the 28-year-old is his own man.

"Food has never been my strong point in terms of discipline but I wouldn't change it for the world," he said with a smile. "I am the way I am, and I'm not going to change. I'm feeling good, I'm feeling fresh, my mind is fresh more so than anything, which means I have a little bit extra drive.

"When you're in the same place for so long, playing the same thing over and over again, it's just natural that the ambition wouldn't always be as strong as it is coming into a new environment, a new team and trying to impress new people.

"So I'm excited. I'm very happy to be playing here. I'm week in, week out trying to impress and show my skill-set, and just playing with a smile on my face and that's the main thing.

Culture

"It's just a different environment and a different culture here, and that's not taking anything away from back home, because that was the best for me while I was there too, but the way I play my rugby there's just certain things that can flourish and there's other things that came flourish back home.

"I'm just trying to play as much as I can see, and it's easy when you have people like Finn (Russell), who play the same way you do.

"There's no shackles, there's no fear, we're able to do things. Just one call or one whisper on the pitch and it happens.

"It has definitely been everything I thought it would be and more.

"I'm delighted I made the decision. It was a big decision for me to make considering what I had at home and that but I am very happy I did," Zebo added.

"They are a great bunch of guys, great coaching team. I am playing in quality atmospheres every week, which is exciting.

"Change is always good and new is good. I'm enjoying it a lot."

Irish Independent

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