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Ireland v Scotland Six Nations: Simon Zebo is playing with a grin on his face again

Attacking set-up plays into Irish star's hands

By Jonathan Bradley

Published 15/03/2016

Up and running: Simon Zebo revelled in the fast, attacking style deployed by Ireland in the win over Italy, their first of this Six Nations campaign
Up and running: Simon Zebo revelled in the fast, attacking style deployed by Ireland in the win over Italy, their first of this Six Nations campaign

Ireland can hardly expect Scotland to be as compliant as Italy when their Six Nations campaign concludes at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday but a repeat of the attacking intent displayed in last weekend's nine-try 58-15 romp would surely keep smiles on faces.

Simon Zebo felt Joe Schmidt's men were back to enjoying themselves after picking up their first win of this year's tournament - which has been won by England with one game to go - against an admittedly poor Azzurri.

"It felt fun for the first time in a while," reflected the man who turns 26 tomorrow.

"It was very fast but it was exciting, people were putting their hands up and trying to get the ball and get into space.

"It was great to be a part of it and it was very exciting. I think we were in the groove and in the zone. The attacks we were picking were coming off."

The marked change in style was best epitomised by the first of Jamie Heaslip's two tries.

All coming from a short 22 drop out when Ireland could have just looked to see out the half, the move went from one end and side of the field to the other and featured a sublime offload from Zebo in the build-up.

On the score - the most memorable produced by the men in green for years - the Cork native added: "It was a very good try. I was just trying to get my hands on the ball as much as possible and try to make an impact on the game.

"I have fun when those sort of things happen for me. It was probably the first dry day I've played in since the World Cup, so the ball was gripping easily.

"We went out with a positive mindset and I think it paid off."

While he was involved in neither of the nerve-shredding games that concluded Ireland's championship in the past two seasons - or the defining clashes of the World Cup against France and Argentina - he says the visit of Vern Cotter's men will see the hosts play what's in front of them, not dwell on the reasons for the game carrying little weight in terms of the table.

He said: "We never tend to dwell too much on the past so looking back at the English and French games is frustrating but we're all about the future.

"I think the Scotland game is going to give us another chance to improve so hopefully we can go out with another positive mindset and play well."

If not for the Zebo-inspired Heaslip effort, the moment of the weekend would surely have been Scottish full-back Stuart Hogg's sumptuous flick of the wrists that created a try for Tim Visser in the Dark Blues' win over France.

The Glasgow Warriors man seems to impress whenever Scotland take the field but in a winning side with plenty of ball, as they were on Sunday, his imaginative play becomes all the more prominent.

Not unlike Zebo in that regard, with Rob Kearney (pictured) again to miss out with a hamstring complaint, a battle between the two on Saturday could light up what seems likely to be a dead-rubber battle for third place.

"He's an exciting player," said the Munsterman of his potential opposite number. "He plays heads-up rugby and he's got a lot of pace. He's very dangerous and every time he gets the ball he seems to get gainline, so he'll be someone that we'll be trying to nullify.

"I spent time with him on the Lions tour so I know him better than most. It would be nice to line out against him."

Schmidt yesterday called the uncapped Munster back-three player Andrew Conway into his squad to replace Kearney while Dave Kilcoyne was drafted in as cover for Cian Healy.

Healy missed out last week with a hamstring issue and will be monitored through the week while Eoin Reddan also hopes to prove his fitness at Carton House.

The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) confirmed in a statement: "Rob Kearney's hamstring hasn't recovered sufficiently and he will not be involved in Ireland camp this week."

Robbie Henshaw, Ulsterman Andrew Trimble and Keith Earls all received stitches to nasty-looking cuts during the triumph over Italy, but all three will continue training unhindered this week.

Belfast Telegraph

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