Updated Jan 29th 2019, 9:19 AM
SIMON ZEBO HAS been here before, so it isn’t an entirely new experience, but that doesn’t necessarily make it any easier this time around.
The bottom line is that he would still dearly love to be in Carton House this week preparing for a Six Nations opener against England. His desire to play international rugby for Ireland burns as brightly now as it did when he made his debut back in 2012.
The reality, however, is different. Very different.
Zebo pictured in Dublin yesterday in his role as Paddy Power ambassador. Source: Karen Morgan
Zebo smiles, and shakes his head, when asked if he has received any contact from Joe Schmidt since his move to Paris. Zilch. But he knew, when making the decision to leave Munster last summer, what the consequences were. Exiled. The door closed.
“I didn’t think it would be as blunt and cold as it has been,” he says. “Like I knew I was going and I knew what was going to happen, so it’s not that big of a shock. But in terms of how blunt and cold it was, a little bit [surprised].”
While the IRFU’s policy of not selecting players who choose to play outside of the four provinces has unequivocally contributed to the current health Irish rugby finds itself in, it is still sad that a player of Zebo’s calibre has been so ruthlessly cut loose.
Them the risks.
Zebo has moved on with his new family life in Paris, where he holds no regrets over how things have panned out. The fullback has hit the ground running at Racing 92, playing with the freedom and licence he felt Schmidt’s structured game plans didn’t allow and has scored 12 tries this season, five of which have come in the Heineken Champions Cup.
His performances have earned him a nomination for the EPCR Player of the Year award, while such was his immediate impact at Racing, Zebo was named in Midi Olympique’s Team of the Year for 2018 despite only arriving during the summer.
He could not be doing any more to force Schmidt into a rethink.
“No probably not,” Zebo agrees. “In terms of fitting in with the new club and playing or having an impact as early as I have. I’ve just hit the ground running or that’s what I’ve tried to do the first couple of months and scored a few tries. Our attack is going quite well.
“I’m not going begging or anything. I’m enjoying my life and my rugby. That’s not how it really works I think. If the coach wants to keep in contact with a person to see how they are doing or whatever they put in the effort. They select a person for a squad or whatever so it can’t really come from the player saying pick me. It doesn’t work like that.
“If it did, I’d definitely pick up the phone [to Schmidt].”
Out of mind and out of sight, it seems Zebo could not be any further from Schmidt’s plans, despite the head coach previously admitting he had been keeping tabs on Irish players abroad such as Ian Madigan.
But when the Kiwi coach announced his 38-man championship panel a couple of weeks ago, he proceeded to namecheck more than two dozen players who were either unlucky to miss out on selection or were very close to breaking into the Carton bubble. Inevitably, there was no mention of Zebo.
“That’s just probably their mindset. Once I’m gone, I’m out,” he continues.
Zebo has not heard from Schmidt since his move to Paris. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
“But it was obviously different in the past when Johnny [Sexton] and people were playing abroad and they were very much keeping in contact.”
Zebo admits no provisions are going to be made for him.