Simon Zebo desperate as ever to land that elusive European title

Simon Zebo desperate as ever to land that elusive European title
Zebo's Racing 92 are due to travel to Clermont Auvergne for this season's Champions Cup quarter-finals having emerged from a pool including Munster and Saracens. Photo: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Simon Zebo believes he will live to regret it if he cannot lift the Heineken Champions Cup before he retires.

A star turn with a Munster side that repeatedly bumped its head on the glass ceiling that was the semi-final stage, he now finds himself part of a Racing 92 outfit that appears to have all the tools required to be the very best in European club competition.

The Parisians are due to travel to Clermont Auvergne for this season's quarter-finals and tournament organisers are looking at the October window as a possible means of tying up all loose ends before moving on to the 2020/21 chapter.

Racing have lost two finals, to Saracens and Leinster, in the last four attempts. There have been other agonising knockout losses - to Toulouse by a point, Toulon by three and Saracens by the bare minimum in recent times - but Zebo is adamant they have what it takes to cross that line.

“That's the goal in the immediate future,” he said on the EPCR's 'The Champions Show'. “We have a great balance to our squad and you need a bit of luck but there is no reason why we shouldn't. We're very, very excited by the challenge. It's a club where the Top 14 isn't held on a pedestal.

“They are both right next together. For me, it would be the Heineken Champions Cup [first]. It's the extra special one having come from where I came from. To lift it one day would be an absolute dream come true. The best opportunity I have in my career will be now. If I don't do it it will be one regret that I will always have, I imagine.”

His response when asked what this Racing side can achieve is bullish. “Everything,” he insisted before explaining that the bedrock of that belief owes to much more than the presence of so much talent in the one dressing-room.

Racing possess a daunting pack and a stunning backline but Zebo has been taken by the sense of camaraderie which, as he said himself, is not always apparent in Top 14 environments. There is no reason, he believes, why they shouldn't be playing in both finals every year.

“They are the standards we set and that's what we fully expect each year so it is a great mentality to be involved in.”

Zebo has ticked most boxes when it comes to European rugby. His 29 tries have been bettered by only three men - Chris Ashton, Vincent Clerc, and Brian O'Driscoll – and he has experienced a lifetime of memories in his days as a Munster player.

That they never managed to add that third star to the red jersey remains a source of frustration. If there is one day that he could have back it would be the eight-point semi-final loss to Toulon in Marseille in 2014 when their own errors and Jonny Wilkinson's boot cost them dearly.

Four years later and he moved to the French capital. Some players don't settle in new countries. Not Zebo who professes to love life in Paris on and off the pitch with his fiance and children but the wrench in leaving Munster in 2018 can still be felt.

It was very difficult, incredibly difficult actually, because I have all my family and all my loved ones back in Ireland. Munster, my team growing up, it's like growing up supporting Liverpool and changing club while you're a player or something so it is a very tough thing to do.

“I always wanted to do it at some stage during my career. I always loved the idea of paving my own way and having my career the way I wanted it to pan out and coming to France was a part of that. Certain things played out in favour of me coming to France.

“I made the decision to do it and I haven't looked back since. It has been incredible. Going back to Thomond Park with Racing and seeing a few games on TV over here has been tough but I'm very, very happy where I am and I'm really enjoying my rugby.”

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