Sunday 19 January 2020

'Exciting times with Schmidt' can ease pain of Zebo's snub

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

SIMON ZEBO's sunny disposition breaks just for a moment.

"Yeah, gutted ... " he says, tailing off as he recalls being fitted up for a Lions suit, going through the pre-tour rigmarole and getting his hopes up. He is in Carton House a week too late and, while he is making the best of it, the Munster winger clearly had plans to be in Hong Kong rather than Kildare this week.

Not that he will let it get to him. Apart from that moment when he let his feelings show, the Corkman is happily chatting about Joe Schmidt, summer tours and which tunes he'll be taking with him to Texas.

Most felt that the 23-year-old was hard done by when the Lions selection was announced, with kilted Kiwi Sean Maitland getting the nod, and, while he pays lip service to the idea that he should be happy with how far he has come in the last two seasons, it is clear he expected to go to Australia.

Despite winning just five caps for his country, his X-factor will be badly missed by the Lions; his ability under the high ball, counter-attacking and out-and-out gas could all have contributed.

He has not been told that he is on standby for Australia, but he's still hoping for a call and, if not, he is off to Texas and Toronto to win his sixth and seventh caps for his country.

After briefly feeling sorry for himself, Zebo had to refocus and is looking forward to the tour.

"I was initially very disappointed," he admitted. "It would have been a hugely exciting tour. It was disappointing for a couple of days after.

"After that, I quickly switched, and there is an exciting tour to the States and Canada. It is not the worst of places to get a chance to go to when you are at the back of a long season.

"I was lucky I got the chance to show what I am capable of, which I was delighted about. When I think about it, in that way, the season has been a success personally.

"I haven't been told yet I am on standby. I haven't a clue. Everybody had to do the suits and all that. Yeah, gutted..."

Much has changed since Zebo last walked the floors at Carton. Declan Kidney has departed the scene, while there are plenty of new faces in the squad with the 10 Lions off on tour.

The prospect of the Zebo profiting from the tactics and coaching of Schmidt should have Ireland fans excited. The player himself is certainly looking forward to the New Zealander taking over the reins in November.

"Definitely, I was chatting to Ian Madigan a while ago and he was just telling me how much I am going to enjoy working under him because everything he does is about getting the ball wide," he enthused.

"He just loves seeing ball in wingers' hands. It would be great for me. Whenever I have the ball in my hands, I'm happy.

"It should be exciting times ahead with Joe."

WATCHING

While Schmidt watched training this week and will be in Houston for the first Test and Toronto for the entire week of the second, his brief remains a watching one.

Les Kiss remains the man in charge, and the Australian has relatively few back-three players at his disposal. Having thrived at full-back in the November internationals, could a return to the No 15 jersey be in the offing for Zebo?

"I am happy either or. I am just excited that I can play in both. It is another string to the bow. If I am asked to play there, I gladly would," he said.

"I don't even know where I'll end up – whichever is able to get me more ball, I suppose, I would be happier playing.

"You never know, I might feature there (No 15) for some part of this tour. It could be exciting. We'll take it as it comes. I am glad to wear a green jersey any time."

With Rob Kearney and Tommy Bowe away with the Lions, this is a chance to cement his place in the new regime – unless he gets a call to Australia, of course.

"People want to put their best foot forward. This is going to be the last opportunity that Joe's going to see players play in a green jersey before we kick off the series in November," he concluded.

He's not where he wanted to be, but he's making the best of it.

Irish Independent

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