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Schmidt says Zebo lost out on form as Ireland accelerate Larmour progress
The Munster man is joining Racing 92 this summer.

Murray Kinsella reports from London

THE PERCEPTION IS that Joe Schmidt did not select Simon Zebo for the Six Nations due to the fullback’s impending move to Racing 92 this summer, but the Ireland head coach today stated that Zebo missed out based on his form.

Jordan Larmour, the uncapped Leinster back, was picked in Schmidt’s 36-man squad for the Six Nations, with Schmidt indicating that the 20-year-old had been chosen ahead of Zebo.

Simon Zebo celebrates after the game 21/1/2018 Dan Sheridan / INPHO Zebo remains out in the cold. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

The Ireland boss did also say that Zebo remains in his thoughts and may come back into contention during the Six Nations if he performs for Munster.

“Yeah, he is in consideration like anyone else who’s currently playing in Ireland,” said Schmidt at the Six Nations launch in London. “I answered a question earlier about the balance we’ve got in our back three and we felt that Jordan was probably playing at a level that was appropriate to select him.

“I think Simon is great value to have in the squad and he’s got an irresistible charm about him, he’s always smiling and his positivity is great. But by his own standards, he didn’t have a great day in Paris [against Racing 92] a couple of weeks ago.

“There was some wayward passing, some turnovers that he’d look back at and be frustrated with himself. It’s crucial at the time of selection that we know guys are in good form.

“There’s a bit of time during the Six Nations with the Pro14 games that he can still strike a claim.”

It would be a shock if Zebo did end up playing for Ireland again before his departure for France, particularly after his comments to French newspaper L’Équipe about Schmidt’s “rigid structure” having limited him.

One player who does look to have a very bright future for Ireland is Larmour, who is part of Ireland’s training camp in Spain this week.

“I saw him when he was fresh out of St. Andrew’s College and he’s been into our camp before – the first time was probably 16 months ago during the November series,” said Schmidt of Larmour.

Leinster’s Jordan Larmour Billy Stickland / INPHO Larmour has shone for Leinster. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“So we’ve spent a bit of time having Jordan in and to get him in permanently now is to potentially accelerate his progress into the matchday squad and into, potentially, a starting 15.

“The things that we’ve seen in Jordan… obviously, the most visible things are his ability to accelerate, to change direction, but he’s a skilful young man as well. He’s effective in the air, his passing skills are good, he fully commits to the physical aspects of the game as well.

“He’s a really good kid, Jordan, so that’s always a compelling factor as well.”

Indeed, Schmidt was very positive about his back three options for the Six Nations, stating that Ulster wing Jacob Stockdale should be fit to train fully before the end of this week [Schmidt did rule Dave Kilcoyne out of the Six Nations opener against France].

And the Ireland head coach is particularly excited about the form of 30-year-old Munster wing Keith Earls.

“Keith’s been super, hasn’t he? To be honest, I felt he finished last season really strongly as well,” said Schmidt. “We were disappointed that he was unavailable during the November series, but he’s come back and he’s literally hit the ground running fast.

“He also brings a bit of experience to that back three because with young Jacob Stockdale, Andrew Conway has spent a fair bit of time with us. We’ve also got Ferg McFadden back and he’s got a strength in goal-kicking as well – we just wanted to cover our bases there and maybe take some pressure off Joey Carbery if that’s needed.

“We’ve also got the experience of Rob Kearney, so we kind of like the balance of that back three, those six players who are covering it.”

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