Wednesday 25 April 2018

'Tall poppy' Zebo ready to deal with tough questions

Simon Zebo scored a try during his debut at the Millenium Stadium but a foot injury picked up early in the game against England next time out was the last action he has seen in the Six Nations.
Simon Zebo scored a try during his debut at the Millenium Stadium but a foot injury picked up early in the game against England next time out was the last action he has seen in the Six Nations.

John Fallon

Dave O'Callaghan might have played 33 times for Munster but he is still relatively new to the media duties which are part of the gig, and accordingly was full of concentration when chatting to reporters after training in CIT this week.

He was concentrating so much that the versatile forward may not have noticed another 'reporter' slipping in beside his left shoulder and producing a recorder before asking him "and Dave, how do you think Simon Zebo will do this weekend?".

It was typical Zebo. He is facing into a crucial period, first for Munster and then, he hopes, for Ireland. One should lead to the other, and he has is mad keen to get back having been on the outside a year ago when Ireland stormed to the Six Nations title.

But Zebo, on and off the field, is different to most players.

Former Munster coach Rob Penney summed him last February, saying: "Zeebs is a fantastic bloke and he needs to be embraced for what he is.

"He's not your quintessential rugby man, and you'd never want him to be.

"We call it the 'tall poppy syndrome' in New Zealand, where if someone sticks their head up they get it chopped off, and I just think it's so wrong for young men, it's a tough enough life as it is, so if you've got someone out there embracing life and showing what life's really about - for living - and Zeebs is doing what he does on the field then that should be embraced.

"I hate people being criticised for that sort of thing."

It's now two years since Zebo crowned his Six Nations debut with that audacious flick to set up a try for Cian Healy.

Now the popular 24-year old Corkman is hopeful that a few big displays for Munster in the coming weeks will see him return to that stage and help Joe Schmid't team defend their Six Nations crown.

Zebo scored a debut try that day in the Millennium Stadium but a foot injury picked up early in the game against England next time out was the last action he has seen in the Six Nations.

Another foot injury sustained six months later ruled him out of the November games and he wasn't recalled for the Six Nations triumph.

Zebo eventually returned to the international scene for the two Tests in Argentina during the summer and scored tries in the November wins over Australia and Georgia, when he brought his Irish appearances up to 11.

His displays for Munster in the next few weeks could decide whether he returns to the Six Nations and he is not looking beyond those games, away to Zebre in the Pro12 this weekend and then the Champions Cup ties with Saracens and Sale Sharks.

"Every player has their own personal little goals but as long as I'm playing well for Munster and we're winning with Munster then I'm happy and the rest will take care of itself," he said.

CONSISTENT

"We just need to get consistent and keep winning the big games because we haven't done enough of it this season and we'll all be putting our hands up for other selection.

"It's a massive year. . . World Cup, Six Nations and Champions Cup. We're still involved in the Champions Cup and we need to get the momentum and if we take care of our big games then selection in the bigger tournaments in the end will take care of themselves."

Zebo managed to chalk up 31 tries in 77 appearances for Munster, with four in 11 games this season, and knows that big displays in the next few weeks will be required for Irish selection.

"There's no player out there who's the finished article or complete player so yeah always trying to improve; get bigger, stronger, faster," he reasoned.

Zebo said that having suffered defeat in their last two away matches to Glasgow and Connacht, they are under pressure heading to Parma to play Zebre on Saturday.

So, how does O'Callaghan think Zebo will do on Saturday?

"We're expecting at least three tries from him."

No pressure then for the tall poppy.

Irish Independent

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