IT’S NOT DIFFICULT to imagine Simon Zebo prospering in Toulouse colours.
His creativity, pace, footwork, offloading ability and daring mindset would likely fit in perfectly in la Ville Rose.
It’s little surprise to hear how much he enjoyed watching the great Toulouse side of the 2000s, when Cédric Heymans, Vincent Clerc and Yannick Jauzion ensured Zebo was engrossed any time they played on television.
Zebo starts on the left wing for Ireland tomorrow. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO
With his father, Arthur, being a Martinique-born Frenchman, Zebo still has plenty of relations based in l’Hexagone and admits to cheering on les Bleus as a buachaill in Ireland.
So, when there was contact with Toulouse last time Zebo’s contract was up for renewal in 2015, it would have been easy for the Cork man to have his head turned.
“I’d be a big fan of Guy Novès,” says Zebo, ahead of Ireland’s clash with Novès’ France tomorrow in Dublin. ”I love the way he tries to play the game. During the successful days of Toulouse, he was at the forefront of everything that went well with them.”
But there has never been a meeting between the Toulouse legend and his long-time fan – even with Zebo linked to the Top 14 club two years ago, when Novès was still in charge.
“Well, my agent would have, but I never personally got the opportunity to sit down with Guy myself. It panned out the way it did and I am more than happy to have stayed with Munster.”
Zebo’s Munster contract was extended in the end and means he will be in Ireland until the summer of 2018 at least.
Still, the lure of France and a new adventure will always be there for the 26-year-old.
“At some stage I will, definitely,” says Zebo of a possible move to France in the future. “Yeah, it’s going to happen, but it’s just a matter of when… Pro D2 or whatever. I still have a lot of family in France, I love the lifestyle over there and playing rugby over there would be something that, at some point of my life, I would like to experience.
Zebo with Conor Murray at Ireland training yesterday. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
“There are not many jobs where you can change your career and go to another country. Before all that, I’m very happy with Munster and Ireland and we’ve huge challenges ahead.”
It’s put to Zebo that the experiences of Johnny Sexton and now Ian Madigan show that it’s not always plain sailing for Irish players moving to France, but he seems sure he could adapt.
“I think each player to their own you know? Mads and Johnny would be two fellas who would be extremely competitive, as would I, but we would be three different individuals, so I think going over there you would need a different mindset or something like that.
“I’d be quite a laidback type of fella and open to anything really. I’d say it would be different for each individual, I’ll just say it’s different for everyone.”
No worries for Munster and Ireland right now, however, and Zebo stresses that the only thing in his mind this week is downing les Bleus.
Whereas once Irish sides had a degree of fear about facing France, Zebo and this current squad approach the fixture with more confidence.
“There will have been, in the past, a different expectation,” says Zebo. “Our squad has come on in leaps and bounds. We know if we show up for 80 minutes we can compete with the best.
Zebo and Earls line up opposite Nakaitaci and Huget. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO
“I still think there is a bit of a fear factor around playing France because if they show up and turn the switch on, which they can do, they can beat anyone and cause havoc against any defence.
‘So, yeah, the fear factor is definitely still there, but if we focus on ourselves and give our best performance for 80 minutes, I think we’ve shown against Australia, New Zealand and South Africa and France in the past, we can stick it with any team.
“Hopefully, we can give our best performance this weekend because we’ll need it.”
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