Sunday 8 December 2019

'People love him in Munster' - Luke Fitzgerald sees Zebo and Ryan return key to 'mouthwatering' Thomond clash

Donnacha Ryan, left, and Simon Zebo in their Munster days at Thomond Park in Limerick. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Donnacha Ryan, left, and Simon Zebo in their Munster days at Thomond Park in Limerick. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Tony Considine

It's unlikely that Homeward Bound by Simon and Garfunkel will ever find its way onto any sports team's pre-match playlist. But it would be no surprise if the tune crosses the minds of Simon Zebo and Donnacha Ryan at some point before half five on Saturday evening.

The weekend's Champions Cup clash between Munster and Racing 92 should see the pair return to the Thomond Park pitch for the first time as opposition players. It's sure to be an emotional occasion given the glory days both experienced at the iconic venue. 

For Zebo, it'll be a new experience altogether after a huge week which saw his partner Elvira Fernandez give birth to the couple's third child, a baby boy named Noah Anthony Fernandez Zebo. 

But despite all the excitement in the player's personal life and the fact he started last week's win over Saracens on the bench, his former international team-mate Luke Fitzgerald believes Zebo is a must-pick for Racing.   

"They'll have to play Zebo. Him going home will bring a big crowd out," the ex-Leinster man told The Left WIng, Independent.ie's rugby podcast in association with Aldi.

"He's loved down there. People absolutely love Zebo in Munster. He was brilliant for them as well. 

"I'd expect him to get a great reception. I'd also expect him to play well in those conditions. Both teams are playing pretty well so it's a mouthwatering clash."

It's not the first time that Ryan will face his former team-mates after starring in Paris during the French side's group and semi final victories two seasons ago. But having missed missed the away group game between the two through injury, Saturday will also represent a first for the veteran lock.

And although the Racing away record has been patchy over the years, Fitzgerald thinks the presence of Ryan alongside Zebo as well as attack coach and former Munster scrum-half, Mike Prendergast in the dressing room should be enough to ensure the squad front up against the Southern province.

"I hope Racing don't do one of their usuals where they completely capitulate away from home. But I don't expect them to do that," he concluded.

"They'll have a few guys that'll be up for it. They've a great squad with lots of players with good experience. It'll be interesting to see what the squad unity is like 

"With Donnacha Ryan as well, those guys seem to have bedded in very well. You'd think off the back of that the team will rally around them and want to put in a big performance. 

"I know it's a little bit of a subplot but sometimes those things matter. I hope that's the case on Saturday."      

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