Buoyant Zebo hoping for a 'special day on pitch' in chase for elusive Test place
SIMON ZEBO has a smile that could light up a small city. It's just how he approaches life and rugby – they're there to be enjoyed. Problems, you feel when talking to him, are for other people.
When he arrived in Australia following his late call-up from Ireland's camp in America he was ill-prepared for a six-week tour having packed the bare minimum for Ireland's shorter schedule.
No problem. "I did a bit of shopping and stocked up when I arrived."
One of his purchases did include a new iPhone – "expensive!" – having infamously drowned his own in the States when jumping into an ice-bath after training.
Those little trifling details were never going to upset someone of Zebo's sunny disposition – "my laid-back personality will never change" – but his easy-going demeanour shouldn't be mistaken for a lack of ambition.
Traditionally, being selected for the last midweek fixture of a Lions' Tour invariably rules you out of the reckoning for the Test team.
Tomorrow Zebo starts his second game of the tour having also come off the bench in the loss to the Brumbies.
The Munster ace is insistent that he's not chasing a lost cause. "It's not as easy to make an impression as say playing in a weekend game, but you're still getting a chance to go out and represent the Lions," he said.
"That's not something you can take lightly. You'd like to think there's a chance. If any player plays out of their skin and has one of those special days out on the pitch then you have a chance. I'll be looking to do something along those lines."
Zebo is one of four Irish players selected in the starting team. Conor Murray will be flinging the passes from the base of the scrum, while Sean O'Brien and Rob Kearney also start, with Rory Best on the bench.
There's a pressure on the team to add to the feel-good factor from Saturday's Test victory by winning against the Melbourne Rebels. This is especially important having lost to the Brumbies in their previous midweek outing.
"We can't afford another loss. It'll hurt the squad hugely. There were a lot of people upset last week after losing to the Brumbies," said Zebo.
"I suppose we're lucky to get the win on Saturday, coming off a defeat like we did. We can't afford to let that happen again. We're all playing for places and you don't want to be on the losing side."
Mention of the competition Zebo faces for one of those coveted Test berths elicits another chuckle from him.
George North and Alex Cuthbert are the incumbents and both scored tries against the Wallabies on Saturday, while the returning Tommy Bowe was described as truly "world class" by coach Warren Gatland.
"It'll drive me on, it'll drive Tommy, George and Alex on too. It's better as a whole that there's more competition for places," said Zebo.
"I'll want to play better tomorrow now and, hopefully, make a good impression. That's what we need. We need everyone kicking on and we need standards to go up in training and in matches.
"Even playing in a midweek game, it's still a huge honour to represent the Lions and I plan on making the most of the opportunity and adding more great memories," he added.
Meanwhile, the Melbourne Rebels have named their strongest-available team for tomorrow 's historic match against the Lions, with Wallaby-capped half-back Luke Burgess selected.
Rebels Kurtley Beale, James O'Connor and Nick Phipps are being kept in cotton wool by Australia, but the Super Rugby franchise welcome the return of Hugh Pyle and Jarrod Saffy into the starting XV after both returned from injury.
Rookie fly-half Bryce Hegarty returns to the run-on side, after missing the Rebels' previous match due to illness, having started against the Waratahs and Stormers in recent wins.
Melbourne Rebels – J Woodward; T English, M Inman, R Sidey, L Mitchell; B Hegarty, L Burgess; N Henderson, G Robinson, L Weeks, C Neville, H Pyle, J Saffy, S Fuglistaller, G Delve. Reps: P Leafa, C Ah Nau, P Alo-Emile, L Jones, J Reid, N Stirzaker, A Roberts, C Vuna.