Get your Mooju back – Simon Zebo stakes his claim for an Irish starting place after an impressive Argentinean tour
Absent from the Ireland squad during the successful Six Nations campaign, Simon Zebo gave Joe Schmidt plenty to think about with his displays during Ireland’s tour of Argentina.
There was no doubt that injuries had a large part to play in Simon Zebo failing to force his way into the reckoning for Ireland’s Six Nations campaign, but there was also a school of thought suggesting that Zebo might not be Joe Schmidt’s type of player.
It might be a bit harsh to label him as ‘flash’ but the Cork native, *cough* surprisingly *cough* for someone from that part of the world, is certainly a confident lad and not afraid to express himself out on the pitch, whether it’s through an outrageous piece of skill like THAT flick against Wales in 2013 or the ‘Z’ celebration he pulls out every time he crosses the whitewash.
It’s hard to know for certain if there was any substance behind the suggestion that Schmidt didn’t fancy Zebo – from what we know of the Ireland coach, we’d be surprised if there was – but after the performances of the Kearneys and a rejuvenated Andrew Trimble in the back three, he was always going to have to work hard to get back into the first team reckoning.
And, all credit to Zebo, he did just that. A try-scorer against both Toulouse and Toulon in the Heineken Cup quarter and semi-finals, he finished the season very strongly and maintained that form during Ireland’s tour of Argentina earlier this month.
Ireland’s performances in Tucumán and Resistencia were far from perfect, but Zebo made an impression in both games, catching Joe Schmidt’s eye with his defensive qualities in the first test and managing to score a very well-executed try in the second test last Saturday.
Zebo celebrating his try against Argentina in the second test
Commenting after the first test, Schmidt said of Zebo’s performance: "Simon certainly did some good things during the game and having gone back over the video there was some quality in what he did defensively.
"His tackle accuracy was good. Post-tackle there was things that he and I had a look at that he can sharpen up and maybe if he didn't take too much out of the ball, maybe he could get other people involved.
"But when he does take a bit out of the ball, he is such a threat carrying it – that is a real strength.
"His work off the ball in behind, was very good, it gave us the opportunity to pendulum with our back three, that is a step forward for him."
If he wasn’t Schmidt’s favourite player before the tour, he certainly went some way to changing that perception in South America and, barring any injury setbacks between now and then, you can almost guarantee he’ll be involved when Ireland take on more intimidating Southern Hemisphere opposition in November.
Let's just hope he doesn't have to call Schmidt up in an attempt to be named captain like he did with Rob Penney on the Lions Tour last year...