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I still have a Six Nations shot if what Joe says is true - Simon Zebo

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Simon Zebo is nothing if not true to himself. He has never hidden his desire to move to France, nor has he curbed his exuberance when many felt he needed to stop the elaborate celebrations and cut out the offloads in order to win Joe Schmidt's trust.

Instead, he convinced the Ireland coach of his merits through his play, while retaining the smile on his face.

Now, he hopes the Ireland coach is true to his own word when it comes to the Six Nations selection after Christmas. If Zebo is the form back three player in the country and Schmidt says the door remains open, then he hopes he still has a fair chance of being picked.

Ireland went well without him in November as he seemingly began life in exile, but he believes his experience should count in his favour come February.

As they look to reclaim their Six Nations title, can Schmidt's side do without a man who has been tearing it up all season.

"That'll be tough too in the future," he said of his likely omission when he moves to France next season.

"But Joe said the door wasn't closed so if he's telling the truth and I'm playing well in the Six Nations then I might have a chance to get in there.

"You know there's a risk I suppose. It's up to the coaches then if they want to select a player then they can select a player. If they don't and don't feel the need then that's their call. It's nothing really to do on me, if I'm playing good rugby and playing with Munster then I see myself in contention."

After excluding the in-form full-back from his squad for the November internationals, Schmidt said he had moved from the centre of his thinking to the periphery because of his impending exit.

But, he told the player and the media that he remained in his thoughts.

"I know it's imperfect," Schmidt said.

"I was asked earlier would Simon be in the mix? Of course he would be because he was in the forefront of our thinking.

"But he's moved to the periphery, but he's still there, and my conversation with Simon was that, 'You keep playing and keep yourself in the right shape, and there's another squad to be named at the end of January that doesn't necessarily discount you'.

"So the doors are more open than people think but we've got a responsibility to the provinces that we take really seriously, and to the rugby public, to try to keep the people here as best we can."

Zebo's absence wasn't felt during a successful November, but with the stakes increasing in the spring he believes he has something to offer.

"I was okay," he said of the experience of missing out last month. I was kept busy and I was with my kids a lot so I didn't have the TV on too much. It was good, there was a lot of young guys who got a run and were able to excel at that level. It was great to see.

"Jacob Stockdale, Chris Farrell got a run and Bundee (Aki) got a run, all these new guys. It was great to see them play really well in the autumn.

"But Six Nations is a different kettle of fish altogether so they're going to need that experience going into the Six Nations."

Against Leicester last weekend, he certainly looked like a man enjoying his last months as a rugby player, one who was free of the pressure of trying to impress the all-seeing Ireland coach.

While he never stopped celebrating his scores, the dance that followed his try was even more outlandish than anything he's pulled off in the past.

"I kind of lost myself for a few minutes but I was just enjoying it," he said with a smile.

"I was dancing with my kids all week and threw one or two videos on social media of my kids going crazy.

"We had a lot of fun at home, in the playground, in the car, everywhere we were going, we were having a great week, so I told my son if I scored a try then I was going to do a dance.

"My partner was telling me she had to rewind it a few times because he was enjoying it so much. That made me happy."

Having made the decision to leave those famous Thomond Park nights behind, he is intent on making the most of the time he has left.

"I am really, really trying to enjoy it as much as I can," he conceded.

"I remember chatting to ROG (Ronan O'Gara) a few years ago, slagging him, saying he was really old and he was laughing at me, giving me the old wink and the nod, saying, 'It will be gone before you know it'.

"It was only when I made my decision that I realised how fast the years had gone by.

"I wanted to make this season one of my most memorable and enjoyable seasons I have ever had. Winning something would be the icing on the cake.

"We want to win three trophies here, so that is the goal, we want to be in a position like we were last year, where we were in contention, playing in finals and semi-finals is the goal and hopefully if we get to that stage of the season, then we can learn from our mistakes last year."

The first example of that comes this week as they take on a Leicester Tigers side who turned the tables on Munster last season after a Thomond Park humbling.

Zebo is hoping the players won't repeat the same mistakes.

"We had a bit of soul-searching in a few meetings with Rassie (Erasmus)," he said of the aftermath.

"A lot of fellas were called out that day and it wasn't nice. It is a rarity we get bullied and that is something we take huge pride in.

"What is on the crest is what we take huge pride in. We have to make sure it does not happen this weekend.

"As far as accuracy is concerned, we cannot control that but in terms of physicality hopefully we will not be found wanting in that department.

"Our physicality needs to be increased compared to what we'd produce at Thomond Park because at Thomond Park it is easy to be motivated for games, with that crowd behind you, at a 7.45pm kick-off.

"At Welford Road, it is the reverse effect, they have the 16th man, they have the extra two or three inches bulging out of their chests.

"Last year, they bullied us in the breakdown, in the tackles, in the ball-carrying contest.

"It is a narrow pitch so it is going to be a bruising, physical encounter and whoever wants it more is going to come away with it."

Irish Independent

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