"He can just blow the doors wide open" - Simon Zebo backs two Ireland stars to make World Cup impact
"He could just have a monumental game, I can see it happening."
Simon Zebo last played for Ireland in 2017 and is now 33, just off a Covid- and injury-hit season, but he insists he still has the drive to play for his country again.
The Cork native has 35 Test caps but did not play in 2018, under Joe Schmidt, as the former Ireland coach knew he was off to Racing, in France. Zebo returned to Munster in 2021 and, being an optimist, still clings to his squad call-up by Andy Farrell for the November Tests, that year.
The big thing Zebo can do for himself is get back fit and firing for Munster, after sickness and a broken rib saw him play only five games, last season. Munster's record try-scorer is enthused by the trophy-winning revolution brought about by Graham Rowntree and his coaching staff, and is eager to play a bigger part in the 2023/24 campaign, as his side defend their URC trophy.
We caught up with Zebo, as he helped launch Vodafone's new 5G Stadium App, and asked him for a few young stars that could have a big World Cup impact. Two are Irish while the third has been tipped to push Antoine Dupont for the France No.9 jersey, for years to come.
Simon Zebo on World Cup players to watch
Having played at the highest level in Ireland and France, we asked Simon Zebo if he had seen any players at a close vantage point that would make him think they could do well at the World Cup.
The first player he named is a fellow Cork man, and one who will be dearly hoping, and pressing, to get a warm-up shot against England. Zebo told us:
"Gavin Coombes might have a big one, if he can do well in the warm-ups. He's the type of guy that can just blow the doors wide open and make you think, 'I didn't see him coming'.
"He could just have a monumental game, I can see it happening, where no-one is able to tackle him and he's getting three or four tries from pick-and-goes, and he's just the talk of the town all of a sudden."
"Another player would be someone like Craig Casey, who has got all the attributes, all the skills," Zebo added. "All the pace in the world, at the breakdown, his tempo, everything about him - I love watching him play."
Simon Zebo on Brian Gleeson and young France star
As for a player to keep a close eye on, in the coming years, Simon Zebo names a 21-year-old scrumhalf Nolann Le Garrec, who he saw coming through the ranks at Racing.
"He is... lads, he is INCREDIBLE. He's incredible.
"I still fancy him to get on the plane... well, not on the plane as he is already there! I fancy him to have very good World Cup, if he gets selected. He's a very good back-up to Antoine Dupont."
As it stands, Le Garrec is out of Fabien Galthie's thinking for the tournament but that could all change should Les Bleus pick up any injuries.
One player the World Cup has coming perhaps a year too soon for is Munster and Ireland U20s back-row, Brian Gleeson.
"He's looked absolutely unbelievable," says Zebo of the Tipperary lad, who excelled in the U20 World Championships.
"And he's looked really good in training, any time he has been in with us. It just seems to go over his head, like this is normal for him - going around smashing lads, turning fellas over and carrying like a truck.
"He's very similar to Gav, you know. Just that dead-weight that's awkward to tackle. This heavy f****er, you know?! It'll be very interesting and there will be good competition over the next couple of years, but whoever is playing well will play. There's room for both of them."
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