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Simon Zebo sure Munster are on their way back to the top

 

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Had Simon Zebo's life taken a different course, the 27-year-old might well have been preparing for tomorrow's Munster SHC opener at Semple Stadium rather than this evening's Guinness PRO12 play-off at home to Ospreys (6.15pm).

He grew up in an era where Munster and Cork were competing for hearts and minds as they collected silverware on a regular basis, playing both codes until the time came to choose, and, having attended the 2006 Heineken Cup final in Cardiff, the oval-ball game won out.

Growing up he won plenty of trophies in both games, but at senior level success has eluded him so far.

If he'd gone with hurling, it's unlikely the vista would be any different.

Now, the full-back and his team are two steps from their first piece of silverware since 2011.

His prolific try-scoring has already ensured his place in the Munster pantheon, but individual acclaim only gets you so far.

"Everyone wants one," he says when asked if the Reds' season of progress demands a trophy.

"I've had too many seasons now where I haven't won a trophy, it's hugely frustrating.

"Collectively, where the team is capable of going and what we want to do as a squad is compete for Europe every year.

"So the PRO12 would be a nice stepping-stone, but if we lose then it is what it is - we've come a long way from where we were last year and people are probably quick to forget how horrible things were and how badly people were giving out and talking about us.

"That's all changed, there's a great buzz in Munster Rugby and we're very excited about the future."

Rather than a first-year transformation from director of rugby Rassie Erasmus, Zebo believes Munster's revival is part of the process instigated by the late Anthony Foley when he took over in 2014.

"It started two, three years ago when Axel first took over and this is it coming to fruition - we're starting to perform to the best of our ability, each and every one of us," he reflects.

"That's why we're starting to drive it on, the coaches have brought in a new way of thinking and a new game-plan but that was easy to adapt to.

"It's not a million miles away from what we were trying to do anyway.

"Now we've got a real tight, close group and there's a lot of players in core positions playing really well, playing really good rugby and that's a big factor. Competition for places is really high.

"All bodes well," he adds.

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