Zebo has ‘zero re­grets’ over his Paris move

The Racing 92 wing tells Mick Cleary that miss­ing an Ire­land World Cup place will be ‘no big deal’

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Champions Cup -

Si­mon Zebo is in the ap­pro­pri­ate city when he in­vokes the “no re­grets” re­frain of the Parisian song­writer to as­sess his move to the French cap­i­tal in the sum­mer, a switch that caused him to miss out on Ire­land’s ground­break­ing vic­tory over world cham­pi­ons New Zealand.

Zebo watched from afar, ex­iled from Joe Schmidt’s se­lec­tion plans but wholly at ease with his de­ci­sion to leave his na­tive Mun­ster for high-rolling Racing 92, the glitzy, rock-and-roll artists of the French scene with their cos­mopoli­tan squad and pur­pose-built in­door U-arena where they are look­ing to con­sol­i­date their un­beaten start to Pool 4 against Le­ices­ter to­mor­row.

Zebo, true to his wan­der­ing in­cli­na­tions, is com­pletely at home in his new sur­round­ings, even if it does ef­fec­tively re­move him from in­ter­na­tional con­sid­er­a­tion.

“I have ab­so­lutely zero re­grets and I am so, so happy that I made the de­ci­sion,” said Zebo. “One 80-minute match [Ire­land v New Zealand] would not make any dif­fer­ence to that, de­lighted as I was for the Ir­ish lads. It has been an in­cred­i­ble ad­ven­ture here. I wouldn’t be hold­ing my breath about Ire­land prospects and there has not been much con­tact. Of course, it would be nice to go to the World

Cup but it is what it is. I’m not at all hope­ful or ex­pec­tant and it is no big deal for me.”

Ire­land have no ex­clu­sion pol­icy as re­gards pick­ing play­ers from out­side the coun­try. In fact, Schmidt se­lected fly­half Johnny Sex­ton when he was with Racing three years ago.

Zebo, who won the last of his 35 caps in 2017, is com­mit­ted to a fresh chal­lenge, buoyed no doubt by a salary of around £600,000, an of­fer Mun­ster and the Ir­ish Rugby Foot­ball union could not match. There is a real sense, how­ever, that the 27-year-old was ea­ger to fly the nest and make his own dis­tinc­tive way in the world.

With a fa­ther, Arthur, from Mar­tinique, Zebo was al­ready a par­tial French speaker and has set­tled eas­ily into Parisian life with

his partner, Elvira, and young chil­dren, Ja­cob and Sofia. Even the protests of re­cent week­ends have not proved too trou­ble­some, al­though Cham­pi­ons Cup of­fi­cials are mon­i­tor­ing events in Paris ahead of to­mor­row’s match. “There’s been a bit of trou­ble, cars burned out and a few fights with the po­lice ev­ery­where,” said Zebo. “But as for the rugby set-up, it’s out of this world. Great en­vi­ron­ment, fab­u­lous sta­dium with its 4G pitch and re­li­able con­di­tions, and world-class play­ers. There is blunt force as well as mas­sive sub­tlety. It’s all gone like a dream.” As it has for Racing team-mate, Scot­land fly-half Finn Rus­sell, a kin­dred spirit in terms of his outlook on the game. The pair have added sig­nif­i­cantly to the Parisians’ prow­ess as they set their sights on a two-pronged at­tack on the Top 14 and Cham­pi­ons Cup. Racing have been los­ing Euro­pean fi­nal­ists in two of the last three years, to Sara­cens in 2016 and Le­in­ster in Bil­bao seven months ago. Zebo knows only too well that feel­ing of what some call near-achieve­ment and oth­ers, with a com­pet­i­tive zeal, term fail­ure. Zebo reached the semi-fi­nal four times with Mun­ster and lost on each oc­ca­sion, lat­terly and tellingly to Racing 92 in Bordeaux in April.

“It is real goal of mine to try and win the Cham­pi­ons Cup,” said Zebo. “The Racing boys have a hunger to go all the way. We’ve got a deep enough squad to com­pete on two fronts and the am­bi­tion is to be dou­ble cham­pi­ons.

“It’s been great with Finn. We clicked from the get-go. We both like to try things no mat­ter where we are on the pitch. It’s a mat­ter of stay­ing close to him. Things tend to hap­pen around him.”

A chas­tened Tigers travel to Paris, on their up­pers af­ter a hu­mil­i­at­ing 41-10 de­feat at Bris­tol last week­end. The match has a make-or-break feel about it.

“This is a big fix­ture for both teams,” said Zebo. “Le­ices­ter will come here as a wounded beast and that can make them dan­ger­ous. But we want to build on what we have done so far in Europe. An­other win would put us in great stead and that’s what we are striv­ing for.”

Look­ing for­ward: Racing 92’s Si­mon Zebo bursts through against Lyon

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