Simon Zebo shows Ireland what they're missing out on with sixth try in six games 9 months ago

Simon Zebo shows Ireland what they're missing out on with sixth try in six games

Former Munster and Ireland full-back Simon Zebo took his try scoring tally to six tries from six games over the weekend with another brilliant score against Lyon on Saturday.

Zebo has flourished since moving to Paris over the summer and he has been a huge x-factor for the Champions Cup finalists joining a back three that features Argentine international Juan Imhoff and former All Black Joe Rokocoko.

The Corkonian has scored as many tries in six games with his new club as Ireland incumbent Rob Kearney has in his last 79 games for Leinster.

Kearney has played 86 games for Ireland in comparison to Zebo's 36 caps and the former Munster utility believes that he could not operate under the rigidity within head coach Joe Schmidt's system.

"With Munster, I'm free to try things, to play the moves that I see," Zebo told French publication L'Equipe earlier this year.

"I don't have any shackles. Joe is a super coach who has had great success with Ireland. We already talked about it face-to-face. I said to him that I couldn't play in such a rigid structure. I can't play like that.

"Winning is important but for me it's also important to do it in a certain way. But if you ask me to pick between losing in style or winning ugly, I'd choose the second option.

"I wanted to come to a team that were at least as ambitious as Munster. I don't want to just be happy to live in France. I want to win titles - to have an impact in a winning team."

Zebo has scored nine tries in 35 games for Ireland, seven in 29 tests for Schmidt, or just under one try in every four games.

However, for Munster, his strike rate was significantly higher with 60 tries in 144 games, or just over two tries in every five games.

Granted, the opposition at international level is significantly higher than what's on offer in the PRO14 and the lower ebbs of the Champions Cup, but still, should that have accounted for almost a 17% improvement between club and country?

Zebo's defensive lapses were often attributed for his omissions from Irish teams but Schmidt delved deeper when excluding him from Ireland's Six Nations squad earlier this year.

"There was some wayward passing, some turnovers that he'd look back at and be frustrated with himself," said the Ireland coach.

"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."

Zebo never played another game for Ireland following his announcement that he would be leaving for France this season but it seems like there could be a lot of truth to his idea that he is better off without any shackles.

He has shown already under Laurent Labit and Laurent Travers at Racing what he can do when he's allowed to roam free and he's blossoming as a result.

Schmidt expects more of his players than most, particularly those in the back three where he rotated between Dave Kearney, Andrew Trimble, Keith Earls, Jacob Stockdale, Tommy Bowe, Luke Fitzgerald and Zebo over the last four Six Nations campaigns.

Kearney started 16 of a possible 20 matches during that time and Schmidt insisted before Ireland's Grand Slam win that he looks to Kearney when naming his team rather than falling back on him.

"I don't go back to Rob Kearney - I go forward to Rob Kearney. Rob Kearney goes forward," said Schmidt.

"I know that's semantics but I think Rob still has a future with us. You don't pick people if you don't think they have got a future with you.

"I'm not sure what more people want from Rob Kearney - 140 running metres in possession (against Scotland). If he doesn't make that first try (against England), we don't get into the contest. I thought the (Johnny Sexton) kick was a little too far, that fellah Kearney isn't even going to get into that contest.

"He gets into it, where he doesn't even have a right to be there. Look, people will always have their opinions on selection.

"But we're just going to do as much work as we can to try to get the right people and the right combinations. Sometimes people might say, 'That guy isn't good enough'. But that guy is a catalyst for others around him.

"Sometimes that's part of it as well - you want to get people who are complimentary playing alongside each other so you get that ying and yang.

"I'd hate to think if we didn't have Rob on Saturday and had ended up with Kieran Marmion and young Jacob (Stockdale) on the wings...it gives you a bit of security in the back three.

"Rob, as represented by the four 6 Nations titles that he has, must have some idea of what he's doing."

Ireland's unwritten policy of only selecting players based in Ireland should rule Zebo out of a call up to the November international squad next month while Schmidt seems more than content to stick with Kearney at the back.

With three Six Nations titles and a Grand Slam in five years, it's hard to argue with him.