Debut delight: Zebo still smiling

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AUCKLAND DIARY:BEAMING FROM ear to ear, Simon Zebo simply couldn’t stop smiling as he was introduced to the assembled New Zealand and Irish media moments after his unexpected Test debut had been confirmed. Prior to this season, the 22-year-old had only started five league games for Munster before a free-scoring breakthrough campaign which has yielded a dozen tries, including four in five Heineken Cup games.

“It has been unbelievable. It has been a hugely exciting few days. To play the world champions in their back yard and for it to be my debut too is something I’ve been dreaming about for a long time.”

Zebo’s father, Arthur, hails from Martinique, where he lived until moving to France at 19 for military service (meeting Zebo’s Cork-born mother Lynda). During his military service, he suffered a broken leg which ruled him out of the Montreal Olympics’ 800 metres in 1976. Zebo’s sister Jessika is striving to make the Olympic times for the 400 metres in London.

Asked what he hopes to bring to the Irish team, the charmingly easy-going Zebo said: “I like to run with the ball. I like to attack a lot. I suppose one of my main attributes would be going forward with the ball.

“I’ve been trying to work a lot on my defence. The thing I would like to bring all-round to the team, I feel, would be my attack side of things.”

Pap idols: mag stalks Irish stars

THE CROWD Goes Wild is a rugby-dominated, jokey and irreverent sports magazine programme on Sky Sports which was repeating its slot of “stalking” the Irish team, as happened with the participating squads at the last World Cup.

For example, Seán O’Brien was stalked and caught on camera going into a hairdresser’s salon, before the interviewer spotted O’Driscoll walking down the street in Takapuna near the team hotel, with his hoodie pulled over his head. She approached him and asked him for his views on the latest political opinion polls on the New Zealand government.

“I don’t know anything about the New Zealand government.”

“Are you Irish?”

“No.”

“Are you with the Irish team?”

“No.”

“Are you Brian O’Driscoll?”

“No. Ah, there’s me bus.”

And he scarpered across the road.

THE MANfrom The Crowd Goes Wild interrupted Ireland’s press conference by inquiring “Boyzone or Westlife?” “I’m more of a Pearl Jam man,” ventured Declan Fitzpatrick. Cue O’Driscoll, who smiled and said: “To keep it Irish, we’ll go with U2, won’t we?”

IRISH RUGBYconnections with New Zealand run way deeper than any other country, so inevitably many old friendships have been renewed. Mike Brewer, who had stints with Old Belvedere, Ireland and Leinster, was one of the first on the phone to Brian O’Driscoll this week, to ask him for his jersey in Saturday’s Test for a local charity. This was on Monday, two days before the team was even picked. “It was nice of him to show a bit of confidence in me,” smiled the Irish captain.

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