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Rugby World Cup: Ireland's flying winger Simon Zebo eager to cut the shackles loose for France test


By Jonathan Bradley

Ireland's Simon Zebo is eagerly anticipating the chance to take on France at their own game when the sides meet at the Millennium Stadium on Sunday.

The contest had been earmarked as a pool decider from the moment the groups were drawn in December 2012, and so it has proved after the Six Nations heavyweights both won three from three to open their World Cup campaigns.

Both have already made the quarter-finals but the winner of the Cardiff clash will top the group and as a result likely avoid New Zealand in the last-eight, instead facing Argentina.

While the Pumas have looked dangerous when negotiating their own passage to the knockouts, the motivation for victory is clear.

And if France have yet to display much of the flair that once characterised their style of play, Zebo is confident that Ireland can match Philippe Saint-Andre's men in the creativity stakes if the shackles were indeed to come off.

"This will be a very physical game, it will come down to small margins. The little errors will be costly, but if it opens up, then all the better," said the Munster speedster.

"I think we've an extremely talented pack that will give us momentum, and a great backline to run off it.

"We've all the confidence in our own team to mix it with them if it gets loose.

"But we'll still make sure we do everything in preparation to be as ready as we can be come this weekend."

Although Zebo was born in Cork, his father, Arthur, hails from Martinique and the 25-year-old looks at France as his "second country".

Indeed, with the 21-times capped back-three player something of a rare wildcard in the Irish rugby set-up, he believes the freedom with which he plays has much to do with his Gallic heritage.

"My background does come into my style of play, my family would be very expressive, and I think you can see it in my personality and my character," he said.

"So I just go out, try to enjoy myself and execute the skills to try to help the team.

"I've played against France before so the surprise element to it is gone, and my family is the same, it's not as special as it was the first time."

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That match against Les Bleus came at the Aviva Stadium in February - a game Ireland won thanks to the boot of Jonny Sexton en route to a second consecutive Six Nations title - but, given the occasion, it will still be a memorable run-out if he can emerge victorious in the intense selection battle among Joe Schmidt's outside backs.

"If selected it would be a great occasion to play against my second country," added Zebo. "I haven't spoken to my dad much this week, but I think he will have his Irish jersey on this weekend!"

After beginning the tournament opener against Canada on the bench, Zebo has started both the wins over Romania and Italy at full-back, with Rob Kearney having picked up a glute injury in the former, but the two-time British and Irish Lion is fit once again.

It means Zebo will be back to fighting for a wing slot, part of a group that also includes Tommy Bowe, Dave Kearney, Luke Fitzgerald and Keith Earls.

Competition is rife with the players keen to make up for what was a performance lacking the accuracy demanded by Schmidt against the Italians.

Ireland's attack lacked cohesion and, as a result, their attacking moves made little headway beyond Earls' only score of the game.

The 16-9 win was a nervy affair and Zebo admitted that the players are conscious of the need for improvement.

"We didn't attack the way we would have wanted against Italy, so even if we'd wanted to we couldn't have used any of those plays," said Zebo. "We were silly in offloading. Errors and knock-ons and things contributed to a bad flow in our attack and it just didn't allow us to gain any momentum.

"So we'll have to correct that this weekend because if the game does open up, we'll have to be able to offload the ball and keep the continuity a lot better than we did last week.

"We just couldn't get a rhythm going against Italy, so we've got to make sure we gain a better flow against France.

"The competition for places is still huge. I was happy to get a run at fullback last week and I think the coaches know what I can do on the wing.

"I'll just keep working hard in training to keep showing what I can do."

Belfast Telegraph


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