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Dublin: 22 °C Tuesday 19 June, 2018
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'I don’t want my last Munster game to be losing to Leinster'

Simon Zebo didn’t get the romantic farewell he wanted as he said goodbye to Munster fans at the RDS yesterday.

Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Ryan Bailey reports from the RDS

THERE WILL BE no romantic farewell for Simon Zebo in a Munster jersey, the Cork native stripped of that chance by a cruel one-point semi-final defeat to Leinster and he now heads to pastures new in France with a heavy heart.

The sight of Zebo applauding the large swathes of Munster fans who had travelled to Dublin yesterday evening at full-time was a reminder of why this was not the way it was supposed to be.

An Aviva swansong next week would have been a more fitting end to this chapter of Zebo’s career, but alas sport rarely follows such a script and it was here, at the home of Munster’s rivals, that the curtain must come down on his time in red in such disappointing fashion.

Zebo was visibly emotional on the pitch at full-time, struggling to hold back the tears, and was one of the last players to make tracks for the dressing room, almost hanging on for as long as possible as if to prolong his time as a Munster player.

“Emotions are very difficult right now, it’s obviously a tough moment for me to play my last game for now, I suppose,” he said afterwards.

“Unfortunately, it was lost against our arch-rivals which makes it even worse. It was a tough one to take but Leinster are a quality, quality team. They have threats and dangers all over the park and they’re European champions for a reason. We came up short, but hopefully, we will get them again sometime.”

Zebo did his best to help his side over the line during a typically action-packed cameo, which involved him starting on the back foot against man-of-the-match James Lowe and then showing his own attacking pedigree.

Simon Zebo Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The Ireland international was steamrolled by Lowe in the build-up to Leinster’s opening try, simply unable to deal with the Kiwi’s brute force as he charged down the left, and then Zebo was stood down by the Leinster winger a second time before Jack Conan crashed over.

But Zebo wasn’t prepared to let the big occasion pass him by and he grew into the game more as proceedings wore on, with his most notable involvement during the first half coming in the form of an arching midfield run which very nearly freed Keith Earls, only for the final offload to miss its target and go into touch.

Overall, the 28-year-old made 18 runs, 115 metres gained, three clean breaks and beat five defenders, with one of those very nearly helping Munster snatch victory at the death as he burst through a couple of tackles inside his own half.

But Leinster held firm, replacement Max Deegan winning a turnover penalty on halfway, leaving Munster to rue two seminal second-half moments and their own inaccuracies and indiscipline.

A bitter pill to swallow, but that won’t tarnish any of the memories Zebo takes with him to Racing 92 next season.

“Ah, I’ve had incredible, incredible memories,” he continued. “Some incredible days in Thomond Park, playing away from home in France and getting amazing wins and just going to tough places. The most important thing is the friendships and the brotherhoods we’ve started and hopefully, I’ll never lose.”

Asked whether he’ll ever play for Munster again, Zebo added: “Hopefully it’s not [my last game]. But if it is, then my heart is probably down at the bottom of my stomach. It’s not an easy thing to think about. I don’t want my last Munster game to be losing to Leinster so hopefully, it’s not my last.”

Simon Zebo reacts after throwing a poor pass Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

And that was it. Paris and a new challenge awaits, but it’s not the end, rather a goodbye for now.

“Signing off with a heavy heart,” he later wrote on Twitter.

“Thank you Munster Rugby for letting me fulfil my dreams in playing and representing our great club.

“Thank you to the players staff and supporters for accepting me for who I am and allowing me to be me. You will have a massive Munster fan in Paris. I hope it’s not the end just goodbye for now. Lots of love Zeebs x.”

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Ryan Bailey

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