Zebo’s fitting farewell to Thomond Park

It will not just be Munster supporters who will miss the opportunity to relish the flair of Simon Zebo when he departs these shores for a new life in Paris with Racing 92 this summer.

The moment of brilliance that blew Saturday’s game wide open and secured a PRO14 semi-final against Leinster on May 19 was a reminder of the X factor the Cork-born full-back has brought to both the red of Munster and green of Ireland since his breakout season in 2011-12.

An off the cuff, broken-field chip-and-charge through the Edinburgh line, then a brilliant delivered long pass under pressure out to Keith Earls for the second try had the Thomond Park crowd chanting Zebo’s name one last time and the warmth continued as he and his young children made a farewell lap of honour at the end of this 20-16 victory.

Zebo, Robin Copeland and Gerbrandt Grobler all made their final bows at home on Saturday before moving onto pastures new but it is the former of the trio who is homegrown and most likely to return one day.

The 29-year-old certainly did not rule out that prospect.

“I couldn’t do it justice by saying how much I’ll actually miss it, but (moving back to Munster), that’s definitely never going to be written off,” Zebo told former team-mate Alan Quinlan on Sky Sports during a post-match interview on the Thomond Park pitch.

“Growing up, to get the opportunity to represent your home province, there’s nothing like it.

Obviously I’ve been very lucky and blessed to be able to do it for the length of time I did, but hopefully, it’s not the end.

Munster captain Peter O’Mahony will be among those hoping that is the case but for now, time is running out having his old schoolfriend alongside him in red.

“What he has is something you are born with,” O’Mahony said on Saturday.

“You can’t be taught that killer instinct. It’s hard to replace. He brings that little extra something special, and he makes the difference.”

Peter O’Mahony: Paid tribute to Simon Zebo’s killer instinct.

Head coach Johann van Graan said Zebo would be “very much” missed.

“I said inside in the dressing room, we will miss his smile and his attitude,” the Munster boss added. “He is his own man but a fantastic squad player and Munster man. He played well today, as a unit the back-three did well.

That chip he made, to see it. Then the pass was special. In games, you need a moment of magic and we had a few.

Despite the dogged nature of the victory, Zebo told Sky Sports his memories of his final home game will be positive.

“It was great to bring the kids out onto the pitch and see my daughter and son waving at the crowd, I know they don’t know what’s going on now, but in years to come I’ll be able to tell them a little bit of a story about my time here at Munster, so I was very proud.

“(Memories of this game) It will definitely be positive. I think it was one of those games where it was on a knife-edge at times and we had to really dig deep to get the win. These are almost games you’d prefer as opposed to winning games by 30 or 40 points, because it shows so much character.

“I’ll remember that win definitely, but hopefully we have two more wins to go.”

Zebo said he had immediately turned his thoughts to that next challenge and the bigger test to come against Leinster, who first must play his next club Racing in the Champions Cup final.

“We’ve a massive step up but crucially we’ve got another two weeks. Our attack needs to be better than that if we’re going to take down the Leinsters of this world. I can’t wait. It will be difficult, they’ve been incredibly impressive this year.

"They’re like an international side. There’s no weaknesses in their team but the factor of a Munster-Leinster semi-final, I think attack is probably going to win this game, I don’t think any defence is going to give up any inch, so we’ll have to improve our attack.

“Hopefully Racing do a job on them and make them a bit sore for the week after,” Zebo added with a chuckle.

When Zebo does move to France, Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill is backing the Irish star to fit right into Top 14 rugby.

“He will create something from nothing. I am sure Munster will miss that. Like Scotland and Glasgow will with Finn Russell (also moving to Racing),” Cockerill, who coached at Toulon, said.

“He has got to an age in his career where he wants to go and do something different.”



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