Ever since his youngest days at PBC, Musgrave Park has been a favourite venue for Simon Zebo.
He has played in some marvellous games and scored several memorable tries at the famous ground so an anticipated capacity 8,000 strong crowd will be ardently hoping for more of the same on Friday night in Munster’s last game of the current season in Cork prior to Zebo’s departure to Paris and Racing 92 during the summer.
The 27-year-old admits deep regret about all that he will be leaving behind during his time in the French capital without in any way conceding that his days in the Munster and Ireland jerseys – and indeed playing once again at Musgrave Park – are at end.
“It is very exciting to go back and play in Cork; it’s my home county and Musgrave is one of the nicest pitches I have played on”, he said.
“Hopefully we will get a dry night and go out and put on a good performance. Hopefully, for my last game in Cork, we can get a win. It’ll be definitely sad... it’ll probably start to hit home a bit when the final whistle goes.
“The days are ticking and counting down, unfortunately. At least I will have a smile on my face if we win. But if we lose, it will be a bit of a double whammy. That’s something I don’t want”.
Some of Zebo’s fondest memories of Musgrave Park come from his schools days with Presentation Brothers.
And one game, in particular, stands out from the rest.
“It was the 2007 Senior Schools final when we beat Christians which made it sweeter”, he recalled before mischievously adding: “I scored the best try ever after a 110 metre run”.
Those who recall the occasion don’t remember it being quite such an epic gallop to the tryline although Simon recalled that “Peter O’Mahony captained the side and Scott Deasy and myself were the three who went into the professional game.
“John Ryan (Munster and Ireland prop) was in the Christians team. He was actually on the pitch when I ran past him. I actually ran past him twice! I let him know about it as much as possible. The schools’ games would have been very big for us. We had a lot of great memories there . That’s where I started”.
And bearing in mind the very apparent pleasure Zebo still derives from his every minute on the rugby pitch, not even missing out on several more appearances in the Irish jersey because of the move to France can change that for very long.
“It has been okay”, he maintained. “It hasn’t been as bad as I would have thought. Obviously, you would love to be representing your country and running out with the lads and giving it socks during the Six Nations because they are really special games.
“I have come to terms with my decision and what comes with it as of now. I just wish all of the lads up there (in camp) the best.
“You never know what could happen in the future”.
Simon accepts that “there was always a chance” that Joe Schmidt would eliminate him from the reckoning once he had indicated that he would be leaving at the end of the season. And then he added: “I would have thought there have been players before who left and played”.
While the vast majority of Munster rugby followers – and a large percentage nationwide - believed that Schmidt should have kept faith with Zebo while he was still playing in this country, the player himself got it right when admitting that “you always know in the back of your mind what potentially happens”.
However, when Schmidt attributed a perceived loss of form when announcing his Six Nations panel, just about everyone was at a loss to understand his line of thinking. With, no doubt, a degree of irony, Zebo left it at: “But it comes down to form and how you are going. I have made my decision. I don’t regret it”.
Whereas Zebo dismisses the possibility that in certain circumstances (such as an injury crisis), he might still get the call from Schmidt over the next couple of years, he is equally adamant that the prospect of representing his country sometime in the future nevertheless remains very much alive.
“Potentially, yes, I am still young enough (to return)”, he stressed.
“I am still only 27 so if I do come back, then I have no doubt that if I am playing well that I would have a chance of playing for Ireland.
“But not when I’m playing in France, to be honest. I am here now and playing and I am not involved.
“If I was abroad, I imagine there would be an even slimmer chance of me playing.
“I will get my experience. Rugby is a very short career. Playing in France is always something I wanted to do from day one.
“I will get my life experience and I will get my rugby experience and one day I might take it back here with me and see out my days with Munster”.
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