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'Joe gives an inner belief to the whole squad': Smiling Simon Zebo thrilled to be back in the big time

Ireland believe they can beat anyone, says the recalled winger.

Zebo with ex-Munster man Jean De Villiers.
Zebo with ex-Munster man Jean De Villiers.
Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

THERE WASN’T A hope of Simon Zebo delivering a perfect pokerface yesterday.

The Munster wing has spent long enough brooding on the fringes of the Ireland setup.

Starting a November international against South Africa was his moment to step back into the big time and after helping Ireland run up a 29 – 15 scoreline, he was grinning from ear to ear.

On a day when Ireland struggled in the scrum and opted not to pass the ball, it would have been easy for a winger to lose focus in the game.

Instead, the Munster man was a livewire, a constant thorn in South Africa’s side. And after targeting the Corkman with restarts and high balls early on, Zebo’s counter-attacking runs soon forced them to look elsewhere.

“I got a few touches in the first half,” the winger beamed post-match. “I was happy, but it was about the collective at the end of the day. We put in a good performance and everybody is thoroughly delighted with the win… so happy days.”

His face may have been an open book, but Zebo’s year out of favour with Joe Schmidt has ensured his words would show nothing more than solid team unity. Perhaps that’s fitting too, given the wing’s selfless display.

One of his many uncredited chases was in pursuit of Robbie Henshaw’s kick to the corner just after half-time. The collective pressure on Willie Le Roux forced the fullback to kick the ball straight across the line and Ireland were in range for a try that proved to be the turning point.

“We really wanted to attack at the start of the second half. We believe in the systems we have and the direction the team wants to go. When we set our goals for the season or the second half, whatever it may be, we fully believe we can go out and achieve them.

“Scoring the first points of the second half was one of them. It gave us momentum to go on.”

Asked again how this result might measure on the Richter Scale, Zebo stayed well within his stride. It may be Ireland’s first win over the ‘Boks since 2009, but the Six Nations champions always seem to immediately switch to the next task and the next one until a goal is reached.

“We’d have the confidence and belief that on our day we can live with anybody,” says the 24-year-old, with no trace of a grin.

“Last year the boys lived up to the All Blacks for as long as possible, 80 minutes, and were unlucky not to come up with the win.

“No matter who the opposition are, we’re confident we can go out and do a job if we’re firing on all cylinders.”

Though he was present on Ireland’s summer tour of Argentina. It’s fair to view Zebo as a recall to the starting line-up after he was unable to play his way in to the side in the spring. He, for one, was never going to complain about any injury crisis surrounding the squad. Injuries mean opportunities and Zebo quietly and effectively took his.

Ian Keatley, Jamie Heaslip and Simon Zebo Zebo on his way to training with Ian Keatley and Jamie Heaslip last week. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

“There’s never really an excuse of injuries. It’s part and parcel of the game and it’s going to happen to any squad. There’s great depth in the players we have in this country so anybody can step up and do a job.

“Joe gives that inner belief to all members of the squad and whoever’s lucky enough to get the shirt will go out and do it proud no matter who it is.”

O’Connell’s big 17 tackles and more vital statistics from Ireland’s win over the Springboks

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Sean Farrell

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