Wednesday 26 September 2018

Comment: Bizarre Zebo interview appears to be Racing’s attempt to unsettle Munster before key game

Ready to depart: Zebo. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Ready to depart: Zebo. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Just when you think you've seen all that the rugby season has to offer, an interview with Munster's Simon Zebo appears on the Racing 92 website five days before the teams meet in the Champions Cup confirming that he'll be joining the club next season.

The news itself was an open secret, but the fact that the player would have granted an interview to an opponent so close to a pivotal clash was head-turning stuff.

It is no exaggeration to say that Sunday's game is the biggest of both clubs' seasons. Victory would secure Pool 4 for Munster and put them in the quarter-finals, a loss would throw the group wide open.

Zebo spoke to the French club at some point last week on the understanding that the interview would appear further down the line when his move is confirmed.

League regulations stipulate that clubs can only confirm after an April deadline, but the clubs themselves appear to play fast and loose with that rule when it suits them.

The appearance of the interview yesterday wasn't a good look for a player who has always marched to his own beat, but who is professional enough to know better than to go publicising his move this week of all weeks.

There was nothing inflammatory in the quotes, but he won't thank his new club for the timing which cannot be coincidental.

Munster have had the edge in this fixture over the past two seasons, winning three from three and another victory would be very damaging to Racing's season.

Whether it unsettles anyone behind the closed doors of the Munster High Performance Centre (HPC) in the University of Limerick is unlikely, but it won't have gone down well.

In the piece, Zebo is asked how his decision to leave has been received and he speaks about how understanding the Munster fans have been.

Their patience might wear thin if they believed he played a part in this stunt.

The piece appeared long after the Irish province had concluded their media duties in the auditorium in the HPC - an event that was interrupted by some good-natured Zebo japes as he rapped on a window in an attempt to put Ian Keatley off his rhythm.

Afterwards, Zebo sat down with a journalist from a rival newspaper in an interview that had been arranged through Munster. Little did the journalist know he was about to be scooped by the Racing website.

In the piece, Zebo talks of his friendship with former Munster centre Casey Laulala and Racing winger Teddy Thomas and is asked about the upcoming game.

"Of course it's going to be a very, very big game," he told the Racing website.

"A difficult match for both teams but especially for Munster. We will have to play to the maximum (of ourselves), give everything we have and not make mistakes if we want to make a result. Racing is one of the best teams in Europe but, hey, Munster too!"

He speaks about the role his two friends played in convincing him to make the jump and asked about his first time playing at the spectacular U-Arena, he says: "I will love it!"

It's all harmless enough stuff and won't have upset anyone on either side.

If he's perturbed by the quotes appearing, Zebo will hardly linger on it for long. He's not one to dwell on such things and is famous for his carefree approach to a game that others take far too seriously.

If he fails to perform at the U-Arena, there will be some fans and critics who will use the interview as an example of his head being turned, of his focus not being on the task at hand.

Had he granted it this week in the full knowledge of when it would appear, then that would be fair criticism.

That he's been a tad stitched up by his future employers is not a great start, but then again Zebo is unlikely to take all of this too seriously.

More likely, he'll have forgotten about it by the time he got home from training yesterday and he'll be long past it by the time he lands in Paris on Saturday ahead of Sunday's game.

If Racing want to put Munster and Zebo off their game, they'll have to come up with something better than this.

In the end, it will be filed away as a bizarre chapter in the Munster European story alongside the Gloucester tactics book being left in the taxi before the 'Miracle Match' against Gloucester in 2003.

When the two teams take to the field beneath the roof at the U-Arena this interview won't have any relevance.

Zebo's stated goal is to sign off from Munster with a trophy and there will be no mixed loyalties from the Corkman in Paris as he continues his quest.

The Racing 92 website may have to wait for their next interview with their future star as he looks to compete that mission.

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