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Zebo underlining status as Schmidt favourite on Ireland's left wing

The 24-year-old was superb in the victory over England in Dublin yesterday.

Zebo leaves the pitch after Ireland's superb win.
Zebo leaves the pitch after Ireland's superb win.

EACH PASSING CAP adds a little more composure to Simon Zebo’s Ireland performances, and the 24-year-old is now standing out as the player so many predicted he would become.

The Cork man has strung together a line of impressive displays in green since last summer in Argentina, his excellent showing yesterday against England arguably being the pick of the bunch.

From regathering kicks in the air, hassling England’s fielders, tackling ball carriers and beating defenders himself, this was another complete outing from Zebo.

His turnover tackle on Anthony Watson in the build-up to Robbie Henshaw’s try was typical of Zebo’s work rate and selflessness. The impression is of a player increasingly comfortable in international rugby, but the man himself laughs off the suggestion.

Jeez, it didn’t feel comfortable out there!” said Zebo post-match in the bowels of the Aviva Stadium. “It felt like one of the quickest games I’ve played in. I don’t know why, it must have been the backfield cover so that’s a testament to George Ford.

“He had us on our toes and we were constantly trying to cut off space. If felt like a tough, quick game and in the last 10 minutes they were really putting us under the pump. One or two little decisions could have sent the match either way.”

A modest response of course, as Ireland enjoyed dominance of the fixture overall and England were essentially made bystanders to the tactical acuity of Joe Schmidt, Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray.

Simon Zebo wins a high ball Zebo was strong under the high ball in Dublin. Source: Colm O'Neill/INPHO

“They’re quality players, they’ve proven they’re world-class,” said Zebo of Ireland’s halfback pairing.

“From the outside, it’s just really easy I suppose. You know what they’re going to do and when they’re going to do it and Joe has a great game plan. Those two boys are more than capable of executing it.”

As for himself, Zebo has now started all of Ireland’s last eight games, a run that underlines his status as Schmidt’s first-choice left wing. Despite the level of competition for places in the back three, the Munster flyer is now becoming a signature Schmidt selection.

Perform for Ireland and you will retain your place; it’s a simple formula. Zebo also points out that he has been aided by his good luck in health in terms of solidifying his starting place.

“It’s probably my first season as a professional rugby player where I’ve been able to be injury-free, so fingers crossed that keeps the same way for another little bit and that’s all I can do: stay injury-free and hope to put my hand forward.

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“You just take every game as it comes, you don’t think of other factors when you’re playing. You think about going out and doing your best in training and the best on the pitch to try and help the team.”

Simon Zebo celebrates winning 'Zeebs' was a happy man after Ireland's victory. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

That seems to have been the real key to success for Zebo, that pinpointing of what he can do to further the collective cause. Sensational flicks and linebreaks will always be part of the player, but oftentimes it’s a kick chase or ruck hit that matters more.

Talk of a Grand Slam now becomes all the more real for Ireland. Only two more wins and new history will be made.

However, Zebo is very much toeing the party line in that regard too.

We can’t think like that, we’ve just got to focus on Wales,” said Zebo. “If you get too far ahead of yourself, you’ll slip up. We’re just focused on recovering, regrouping and getting everything together for Wales.

“Wales on their day can beat anyone, so they’re an unbelievably dangerous side. So it’s the focus for us now, I suppose it’s the biggest game of our season. We’ve just got to prepare as best we can.”

Schmidt vows to ‘enjoy the moment, take a deep breath’ and pour cold water on Grand Slam talk

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

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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