Time Ireland lifted ban on overseas players, raps Zebo

Simon Zebo says the IRFU must revisit its unwritten policy on ignoring overseas players — especially at World Cup time.

Time Ireland lifted ban on overseas players, raps Zebo

Simon Zebo says the IRFU must revisit its unwritten policy on ignoring overseas players — especially at World Cup time.

The Cork man knew when he left Munster for Paris in 2018 that he was saying goodbye to his Test career — but he still believes the policy is misguided and says the pull of the province means most players will always remain in Ireland.

Zebo, Donnacha Ryan, and Ian Madigan are amongst those not considered by Joe Schmidt for Japan, with the Union believing the policy incentivises the best players to stay at home.

“That’ll be up to the coaches and the IRFU to change things, but if I was coach, and having spoken to other coaches in the game, we would be picking the best team, because ultimately it drops on the coach,” said Zebo, a paddypower.com ambassador.

“You can see how South Africa are doing now, with Rassie [Erasmus] picking their best players no matter what, they have a great chance of winning the tournament.

“People use it as an excuse sometimes — they say it’d cause a mass exodus, but there’s not a hope, absolutely not — it’s never really been a thing with Irish players.

“Everyone wants to represent their province, so I don’t think there’d be a big exodus.”

The ex-Munster man would be 33 by the time the 2023 World Cup in France comes around, but he’s not ruling out a possible second World Cup appearance.

“I’m still faster than most at the moment, and if I’m fit and well when 2023 comes around, and I’m still scoring and making tries, there’s no reason why I couldn’t play then.”

Zebo has watched on from afar as Ireland struggle in Japan, with a convincing win over Scotland on day one quickly forgotten after the shock defeat to Japan six days later.

Yesterday’s less than thrilling win over Russia yesterday has hardly raised confidence levels and Ireland now have just 80 minutes against Samoa next week to turn things around ahead of a potential quarter-final against South Africa or New Zealand.

Zebo is still hopeful — but says things must change for the boys in green.

“It’s been a bumpy start and Japan have put a dent in our confidence,” said Zebo.

“We did well against Scotland, but the attack hasn’t been where it needs to be. You saw that against Japan where we scored two tries but didn’t pose a threat through phase play, we scored those tries through penalty advantage, so we need to improve on that area.

“I’d still love to be out there but the game-plan hasn’t been too exciting so far, maybe we need to pose a few new threats.

“In the warm-up games we weren’t as fresh as we could have been, now we have had a few knocks, a couple of concussions, and the confidence drop after Japan... so maybe the lads just need to be given a bit more licence to express themselves and have some variety in the play.”

Ireland scored seven tries against Japan on their 2017 summer tour — with a handful of players in New Zealand on Lions duty at the time.

So what has changed in the time since that could see Ireland not only fail to win by a similar margin — but actually lose the game?

“Other teams have been getting better,” Zebo said. “But maybe our game-plan has been figured out a bit. People are adapting their defence, working on how they play under the high ball and defending around the ruck. So there’s a lot of room for improvement for us.

“We do have incredible strength in our squad, though, and in knockout rugby we can beat anybody in a one-off game.

“The public won’t be as confident as before, but the players will know what they can do.

“It can definitely be turned around. In each game, Joe’s ultimately the one who decides the game-plan, so hopefully he’ll get it right.”

Simon Zebo is a Paddy Power Rugby Ambassador and columnist for Paddy Power News (news.paddypower.com).

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