Zebo ready to wing it as Munster try to get more positive
RABODIRECT PRO12:Coming off a good pre-season, the Munster winger is oozing enthusiasm for Rob Penney’s fresh approach, writes GERRY THORNLEY
AS BREAKTHROUGH campaigns go, last season was a fairly meteoric one for Simon Zebo. It’s easy to forget he had only started six times for Munster prior to last season, by the end of which he was making his international debut in the first Test in New Zealand.
Having had his eyes opened, and as an innately good-humoured, ever-smiling and positive young man with an unfettered pre-season behind him, Zebo is oozing enthusiasm. And as a winger who was born to run with the ball, Simon Zebo is relishing the fresh and equally positive approach of Rob Penney, and all the more so given the emphasis on width and the likelihood of Zebo having more opportunity to run with the ball.
Penney and his assistant Simon Mannix, according to Zebo, have brought “more of an expansive outlook on the game and more interlinking between backs and forwards. I suppose we’re a little more cohesive in that everybody is attacking and defending together. There are a lot of nice shapes and patterns we’re getting into, and the ball is coming out to the backs.”
Grist to his mill. “You’re always going to enjoy the game more when you get to see the ball more and do what you like doing, which is to run with the ball. It’s only the start of the season and I’m only two games in personally, but it seem like the way we’re going to be playing and the way we’re going about our business and what we want to achieve and how we want to play the game seems like it is really going to suit me. So it’s very exciting.”
While there is usually a pick-me-up from a new regime and, with it, an inherent criticism of the previous regime, despite last week’s setback in the Liberty Stadium, Zebo gives currency to the impression that he is not alone in being encouraged to have more confidence in his own abilities.
Munster will run the rule over Leinster, but 90 per cent of their approach will be based on what they do themselves, and on a personal level he places even greater emphasis on himself than his opponent, all the more so after his summer in New Zealand.
“Mentally, on the back of last season, playing on the international stage helped me a lot. Playing against the best team in the world you find out a lot about yourself, the good, the bad and the ugly, and I feel mentally having played against the best team in the world has helped me confidence wise.”
“Physically I had a great pre-season, I feel really fresh, and I feel there’s a bit more space out there for me this season. But you want to improve every part of your game, fielding, kicking and tackling are things I am constantly trying to get better,” he concedes, and Joe Schmidt for one observed that Zebo was targeted by the Ospreys but fielded all four high balls that came his way.
Zebo only played Leinster for the first time in his career in the return meeting at Thomond Perk last season. “It was a bit of an eye-opener, which was good, because I hadn’t really played at that level, but hopefully after finishing last season on such a high, physically, mentally, everything just seems to be better personally, and as a team we’re trying to implement this new game plan and everybody seems confident about achieving great things with it.
“There’s just a great atmosphere and buzz around the place, and more positivity amongst the squad.”
This in turn means Zebo will be making his first appearance in the Aviva tomorrow night. “The thought of playing in front of 40,000-plus is very exciting. It should be awesome.”
It should indeed.