Simon Zebo: I miss the craic in Ireland but France is surpassing my expectations

Our new rugby ambassador chats about life in France, missing his old team-mates and how tough it really is in the Top 14...

Comments

EXPERIMENTATION IN THE SIX NATIONS?

Joe Schmidt might experiment a little bit during the Six Nations, perhaps giving one or two players a bit more experience in certain positions.

But overall he’ll be very much focused on winning this tournament, rather than sacrificing a win for the future development of the side.

The Six Nations is too important for that. Ireland are defending the Grand Slam so they’ll be the number one target for all the other countries this time around.

There may not be too much rotation as a result.

UNCAPPED PLAYERS

It’ll be difficult for the three uncapped players named in the squad to get into the starting XV, but they’re in the squad for a reason – they’re three capable players and they’ll push people for spots on the bench.

It’s always good to see fresh faces in the shakeup as they bring another level of hunger and excitement to the team. I’ve played against Caolin Blade and Jack Carty: Jack has a lot of skill in his game and is a good kicker and a good runner with the ball; Caolin’s a short, stocky, very fast and electric scrum-half.

They’re in good form and will hopefully get into a matchday squad.

SEXTON V CARBERY?

Joey has been playing really really well with Munster and has taken them to another level. But I don’t think he has the body of work – yet – to be able to challenge Johnny.

Johnny has proven time and again that he’s number one – but it’s good to have Carbery competing with him as Sexton was so far ahead of everyone else for so long.

Joey will have to maintain his form up until the World Cup if he wants to challenge for a spot then. Johnny’s the best player in the world – officially – and if he’s injury-free, he’s world class.

Carbery’s so exciting and brilliant to watch, but he’ll need to do it for a bit longer.

ON PLAYING IN FRANCE

I miss the craic and my Ireland team-mates, just the banter between training and the mischief we get up to when we have time to kill. That’s what I miss most.

But it’s been incredible for me in France thus far. The atmosphere in the grounds is amazing. playing away from home is superb and the Racing stadium is out of this world.

It’s all totally different from a rugby point-of-view.

The style of rugby we play at Racing is very exciting, and Paris as a city is great as well. When you combine everything – the rugby, the lifestyle, the environment of the club – it’s certainly been eye-opening and refreshing.

It has surpassed my expectations. It has been way better than I thought it would be.

PROVINCIAL ADVANTAGES?

The Top 14 is a lot more competitive than the PRO14, and there’s a higher standard with world-class players in every team.

In Ireland, you can monitor the players a little more, and you don’t have to send them away to Zebre or Treviso or to play them against Edinburgh.

But in France there’s such a dogfight to get into the top six that you have to play more matches and every game is a big one, because points are critical.

At Racing we get monitored quite well. We have a lot of squad-depth so the selectors can rest and pick-and-choose players. Centralisation and the provincial setup benefits Ireland in that regard but it isn’t as significant as many perceive it to be.

It’s not the reason why Ireland won the Six Nations, even if that’s what some are trying to suggest.

We only have four professional teams in Ireland, so we can look after things a little better but you’re still playing to win every week and the Champions Cup is still as gruelling as ever.

Ireland are 3/10 favourites to beat England on Saturday

What do you think?