Simon Zebo relishing showdown with ‘world-class’ Racing

Another must-win European night in Thomond Park beckons and Simon Zebo can’t wait for the opening whistle.

Sunday’s draw with Castres means Munster can’t afford slip-ups in their bid to escape Pool Four and make the last eight of the Champions Cup. Their opponents this weekend are a star-studded Racing side with a Munster legend in their management ranks. The stakes couldn’t be any greater. Not that Zebo is complaining.

“Racing have a world-class back line, pace all over it, poach threats, big hitters, good aerially, slick hands, the full arsenal,” Zebo stressed.

“Our forwards will have a big job in slowing their momentum, in trying to win collisions in defence so they don’t get too much front foot ball.”

And then there’s Dan Carter. “With someone of his ability and talent, he can change a game just like that. It has all the makings for a great game as we have a very exciting backline ourselves.”

Zebo believes leaving his one-time home from home with the Munster scalp on his belt “would mean the world”to Ronan O’Gara.

“It’s different when you’re coming as a player but from a coach’s point of view, I’m sure it’s something he’d like to get, to add to his résumé. We’ll have to stop that happening.”

But there is a bigger picture at play for Zebo. Almost a decade has passed since Munster were last crowned champions of Europe. It’s a famine Zebo wants to help end.

“There’s a void there that needs to be filled. The main drive and ambition in this club is to get this Golden Nugget, the European trophy that we’re trying so hard for. A lot of the guys in the stand that day are in their prime now and leaders in this team and we’re the ones who have to take it home. A win this Saturday would go a long way.”

That won’t happen unless they play far better than they have of late. So what are the areas in need of improvement?

“The penalty count is probably number one and we need to be more ruthless or cold-blooded enough to get the win in the final stages. If Saracens or other teams were playing that game, they would have won it. We have time to rectify that and get our focus back on being the top European team that we can be.”

Zebo smiles ruefully when reminded of the moment early in the Castres game when he was very close to joining Conor Murray in the sin bin.

“I thought I was gone”, he conceded. “I was in two minds, I was either going to pluck it and go the length or just try and wrap. I was pretty annoyed with myself. I don’t give away penalties too often. It’s not a good feeling, even when you’re against the cosh like that. I’ll keep my penalty count as low as possible and hopefully, we won’t chat about that again.

“Why is the team giving away all these penalties? I don’t know. Everybody is very eager to make the big play and get the big turnover or make the big hit, inching a little offside or holding onto the player on the deck too long for the referee’s liking.

“Some of them have been plain stupid. It’s something we can definitely rectify. It wasn’t a major issue last year and it’s not going to be one this year.”


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