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Schmidt on Zebo: 'He's a free-spirited young man who loves the game'

The Munster wing’s hard work made him a stand-out performer against England.

Simon Zebo Source: Colm O'Neill/INPHO

SIMON ZEBO HAS come full circle during his fledgling Ireland career.

Initially hailed as a breath of fresh air and forever attached to that overused catch-all term ‘X factor’, his high profile earned in a short space of time meant he had a long way to fall in people’s estimation.

This time last year, he was written off by many when Joe Schmidt preferred Dave Kearney and Andrew Trimble as his wingers en route to the Six Nations Championship.

Zebo, however, never lost confidence in his own ability, never ignored the fact that injury played its part in curtailing his chances and never stopped trying to improve his game to make the cut.

The 19 – 9 win over England saw Zebo put in his most effective performance in green. While the Six Nations opener against Wales in 2013 included an unforgettable flick off his heel and a try in the corner, the Aviva Stadium was yesterday treated to an exemplary display of all round wing play as Zebo worked his trademark low-slung socks off.

“He’s a free-spirited young man who loves the game and he loves to be involved in the game,” the head coach said of the Corkman when looking back on the pivotal victory.

Simon Zebo wins a high ball Source: Colm O'Neill/INPHO

“It’s a case of convincing all the players to keep that appetite to be involved as often as possible even if it’s not with the ball in your hand. I thought his kick-off take from the 22 drop-out was an exceptional take in the air.

“I thought the way he finished the game against France, taking Remi Lamerat – a very strong player – in to touch; those are things that don’t [involve] him carrying the ball.

We were reasonably keen to get some ball to him today. Sometimes these things work out and sometimes they don’t but I felt the game today was high-tempo, very high-paced and there were two very positive teams going at it.”

Paul O’Connell echoed the sentiment of Schmidt, lauding his team’s backline for thriving on the workload that is required of them.

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“One thing about our backs is that they’re all very talented, but they’re all very hungry as well. They’re willing to work hard.

“When we were looking out at the snow today, they were relishing playing in that maybe as much as some of us forwards were – an opportunity to mail a bit more or whatever. As well as great talent, [they have] great hunger and appetite as well. I think it’s a great thing from my point of view to see from them.”

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Sean Farrell

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