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Zebo invites the pressure ahead of new senior role with Munster

The 24-year-old is hopeful that his brittle feet won’t stunt his season for the third time in-a-row.

Zebo has his fingers crossed that his brittle feet won't cause more trouble this season.
Zebo has his fingers crossed that his brittle feet won't cause more trouble this season.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

SOME PLAYERS PREFER to operate slightly beneath the public radar, going about their duties without the pressure of being a major star and being content simply to function as part of the collective.

While Simon Zebo embraces the latter mindset, he is not one to shirk the added pressure created by his status as a darling of the Munster support. Au contraire.

“This is a massive season, and it brings an extra pressure, but that brings the best out of me. If there’s no pressure I just fall into a comfort zone. There’s a lot of pressure this year and I love that.

Every game I’m just going to go out there and do my best and perform like I know I
can every week.”

At 24, and with five seasons as part of Munster’s squad behind him, Zebo now justifiably sees himself as something of a leader within the group, one of those tasked with maintaining and pushing daily and weekly standards.

“Definitely, you have to perform week-in, week out. You see Paul O’Connell and ROG and these guys for years, doing it every single game really and being unbelievable,” says Zebo.

“The likes of myself, [Keith] Earls, [Conor] Murray, Felix [Jones], and these guys are now suddenly senior members of the squad and it’s a good thing in a way because it’s our generation and it’s our time to win trophies.

Simon Zebo dejected "At the end of the day it just comes down to silverware. In Munster we demand that and expect that. We haven’t won anything in a while which is unbelievably disappointing for the core group of players." Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“It’s something you can’t sit on or think too much about. You just have to go out there and act and perform week in, week out, because you have to lead by example at the end of the day.”

Part of Zebo’s role this season will be to put into action what new head coach Anthony Foley has laid out for the squad in terms of game plan. The Cork native admits there is “a new philosophy which is kind of more similar to the way Munster played throughout the years,” following two years of Rob Penney’s expansive brand.

Zebo refers to Munster’s “need” to win trophies this season, before mentioning that he is hopeful of an injury-free campaign after breaking bones in his feet in the past two consecutive seasons.

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“I’ve quite bad feet, you know? I don’t know the mechanics of it exactly, but they’re not the prettiest to look at and they don’t operate too well. Yeah, they’re just pretty brittle I think. I can keep my step a bit, but jumping and landing isn’t great.

I just have to watch out for them a little bit but you don’t think about it too much when you’re playing. I could wear these big massive boots but then my performance would be hindered a bit,” continues Zebo.

“I haven’t had any hiccups or anything since the last foot injury. Fingers crossed now I can have an injury-free season because that would be a change for once.”

With those weak feet hopefully remaining intact for the season, Foley will be keen to inspire Zebo to the heights of his potential. With his pace, evasion skills, left-footed kicking and ever-improving offloading, the 24-year-old is a superb asset for the province.

Simon Zebo celebrates his try with Felix Jones Zebo scored seven tries for Munster last season. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

His reputation is as a player capable of producing magic in moments of need, but does that ever infringe on his mindset on the pitch?

“No, I wouldn’t say so. I put pressure on myself at times. The only time I can remember that happening was the Glasgow game in the Pro12 semi-final [last season] when we were losing. I could feel like the lads were looking for something, you know?

“Looking for a spark or looking for a touch and I was just pretty disappointed I didn’t bring it. I felt we had the beating of them even though we didn’t play that well.

That’s the only time I’d have ever really thought about it. When you’re out there you don’t really have time to think about it too much.”

Zebo points out that his pre-season has had an increased focus on strength and conditioning, it being a “time of year where you can concentrate on getting bigger, faster and stronger.”

“That will be my goal for the next couple of weeks,” continues the Ireland international. “To just try to add those physical aspects as much as I can and then focus on the rugby when that comes around.”

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Murray Kinsella

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