Even if Ireland win the World Cup, I won’t regret French move, insists Zebo

Even if Ireland win the World Cup, I won’t regret French move, insists Zebo

England are expected in town any day now, Ireland are already deep in conclave at their Kildare retreat and Simon Zebo is starting in to a two-week break from rugby that will involve some time in Cork and a trip to Dubai.

Ah, but it still doesn’t feel right.

Zebo’s claim for an Irish jersey has long been a keenly-contested topic — and it is nigh on impossible to argue with the policy of choosing only those players who clock in nine-to-five with the four provinces — but it remains a shame that all the pieces don’t fit. Or can’t fit.

“I would love to still be able to play for Ireland,” he said in his role as Paddy Power ambassador.

“You see them winning Grand Slams and going into the World Cup as world number one, that’s very exciting if you are playing for Ireland.

“For me, I have a different excitement and a different life at the moment. I’m in no way holding any regrets about that. Even if they won the World Cup or whatever, I am so happy with my decision and with how my life is at the moment. No regrets, just positivity, and I wish Ireland all the best.”

He has embraced life in Paris. Injuries to others have increased the minutes he originally expected to play but he doesn’t feel in any way overworked or burnt out and the former Munster man has a dozen tries under his belt already for Racing 92.

The razzmatazz about the club seems to suit him and that showbiz culture extends to the pitch where the Top 14 side plays with a degree of flair that wasn’t exactly intrinsic to the ethos for most of his time with Munster or with Ireland.

The perception was always there that he didn’t fit the mould for the type of player that Joe Schmidt wanted in a green jersey but 29 of his 35 Ireland caps were won on the Kiwi’s watch and Zebo has never pictured himself as some round peg in a square hole.

“Yeah, I can fit in no problem,” he insisted. “That’s not the issue, there is no issue as regards fitting in. I can adapt to any game plan. I was just saying what would benefit me the most wouldn’t necessarily be to play under a lot of structure.

“That’s what you’ve seen how I go in France and how I go with Munster when we haven’t had a lot of structure and it’s free-flowing. But international rugby, you do tend to need structure to break down teams. It’s not me going up against another team.

“It’s one-to-15 and you have to cater for the squad, which is totally understandable. What would make me flourish better would obviously be less structure. That’s not to say I wouldn’t love to play for Ireland or adapt to any game plan that we have.”

He knows that’s a one-in-a-million shot for now. That it would take an injury crisis of unprecedented proportions for his phone to receive a message from Lansdowne Road. And it’s not like he is contemplating a call in the other direction.

“No, I’m not going begging or anything. I’m enjoying my life and my rugby. That’s not how it really works, I think. If the coach wants to keep in contact with a person to see how they are doing or whatever they put in the effort.”

Things can change, of course. Schmidt’s term as Ireland head coach finishes with the team’s last game in Japan later this year and Andy Farrell will be the man calling the shots from then on. All of which will be moot if Zebo’s exile status remains intact.

He will be 30 when his current deal ends in a few years time and made it clear again yesterday that his decision-making process is a multi-layered one that places his partner Elvira and their two children above everything else.

Playing rugby, as he reminded us, is not forever.

That family-first approach will extend to the coming weekend. He was on site when Ireland accounted for New Zeal last November but he will hope to prioritise time with his nearest and dearest over a spot in the Aviva Stadium stands this time round.

His own record in the Six Nations makes for curious reading. Zebo appeared in the tournament 15 times and only managed the one try, against Wales in Cardiff in 2013. Yet scores against the likes of New Zealand and Australia show he was more than comfortable at Test level in general.

“It’s not an itch I need to scratch, definitely not. I’ve no issue scoring tries. The Six Nations is a unique tournament and sometimes it’s not the most free-flowing rugby. It’s one-point, two-point games. It’s knockout rugby.

“So I can understand sometimes why you can have more structure or less freedom for me to go out and have the opportunity to go out and scores tries.

“If I was having a scoring drought and down in confidence then I might feel so but that’s never the case.

“I’m always confident I can score in any game.”

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