Saturday 17 February 2018

Zebo: I don't want to go over and be another number

Ruaidhri O'Connor in Houston

IT is 11.30 on Saturday night when Simon Zebo strolls into the eighth-floor suite of the Hilton, phone to his ear and smile on his face.

It might be the early morning at home, but when you've just found out you're a Lion, the family have to be told regardless. The best news must travel fast.

He hangs up, smiles and takes the handshakes and congratulations from the journalists assembled to hear his thoughts. The same faces who listened to his admission of being "gutted" at missing out on Australia in Carton House less than two weeks ago.

Zebo's team-mate and new international colleague Tommy O'Donnell pops his head around the door. Initially, it looks like he wants to wish him well, but the Tipperary man is just looking for his iPhone back.

Zebo, you see, jumped into a pool with his mobile in his pocket last week and when the Lions came calling they got a dead dial tone.

Eventually, Ireland manager Mick Kearney was reached and he passed his phone to Zebo as he got off the bus from the BBVA Stadium where the winger had played for 75 minutes against the US Eagles.

Having learned of Tommy Bowe's hand injury on the morning of the game, the winger cut a somewhat distracted figure and wasn't at his best in Houston, but now he was in and that match had already become a fading memory.

Zebo began his journey to Sydney last night with big ambitions, but one of his first missions Down Under will be to locate a new phone.

"Guy Richardson (Lions tour manager) was in contact with Mick because I jumped into the pool with my phone in my pocket," he smiled.

The message managed to get through, however, and Zebo now wants to emulate the likes of Simon Easterby, Ryan Jones and Tom Croft by making the Test side after getting late call-ups.

"With such a great opportunity, you don't want to go over and just be another number; you want to go over and be a starter in the Test match. Hopefully, if I get an opportunity, I can show what I can do," he said.

"I'm absolutely over the moon. It is the best news I could ever have dreamed of. As a professional rugby player, the ultimate goal is to be a Lion. Hopefully, I'll get the chance to do that. That is something I have to work towards now.

"It will be hard pitches and sunny weather, so, hopefully, I can show what I can do. I would be pretty positive. You don't get many shots at this, so you just got to go out and back yourself, give it everything you have got because it doesn't come around too often."

The call-up was all the sweeter after Zebo's dreams had seemed to be cruelly dashed. Riding the crest of a wave after that outrageous flick in the build-up to Cian Healy's try and his own score in his Six Nations debut in Cardiff, the Corkman injured his foot a week later against England and missed the rest of the tournament. Despite returning quicker than expected, the winger couldn't do enough to impress Gatland.

"It was a bit of a hiccup, but I only missed a couple of games," he said. "I was only out for six weeks in the end, but I suppose the lack of international game-time was a little bit of a setback. That's all in the past now. There are exciting times ahead, hopefully.

"In November I was just glad I was given my shot. Glad I was able to take my opportunity at the time and get a start for the Six Nations as well and build on it from that. I was very happy with my form."

So, after missing out initially, Cork finally has a Lion in 2013.

"Corcaigh abu," Zebo smiled when the fact that he is following in the footsteps of Ronan O'Gara and Donncha O'Callaghan was mentioned.

He has his chance and, when he touches down in Sydney later this week, you wouldn't bet against him taking it.

Irish Independent

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