Simon Zebo: Joe will like underdog tag – but other teams won’t fear Ireland

Things aren't as bad as they look

Simon Zebo Joe Schmidt


Warmup games and the England fiasco

Going into warmup games trying only to avoid injury is a very weak mindset.

Obviously, everybody wants to play in the World Cup, but the priority in the warmups is probably to go even harder than you would normally, in order to put yourself in the best position to play in the biggest games during the tournament – and, first and foremost, to ensure selection.

These games are test matches and they’re hugely important.

To perform like Ireland have hasn’t been hugely exciting or encouraging but I’d back the lads to be able to turn it around. Against England, they seemed a bit off. You can say they were undercooked, but it’s a test match in England and in the week leading up to the game nobody would have been saying they were undercooked or anything like that.

It just has to go down as a bad performance – and let’s not forget England played really well. It was similar to the game in the Aviva during the Six Nations – they just beat the crap out of us, basically.

It was disappointing; they were running in tries way too easily, and first-phase tries as well, which are pretty ball-breaking if you’re a forward getting up from the scrum and the next thing you have to do is get under the posts and wait for the conversion.

That rarely happens to Ireland. I don’t think it’s a system thing. Andy Farrell’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever worked with – he’s incredibly detailed and he knows his job inside out. The players probably need to take ownership – they’ve just taken 60 points off a team you shouldn’t need motivation to play against. It was pretty embarrassing.

Players under pressure

There are some Irish players under pressure, and there are a few who would be very lucky to get second chances. You can’t really single out anyone because it’s a collective: one player isn’t the cause of an opponent putting 60 points on you.

Everybody needs to get their act together.

There are some names being mentioned frequently in the media, but if you look closely they’ve been such consistent performers for Ireland over the years that they deserve another shot.

The out-half conundrum

At the moment, Johnny Sexton is miles ahead of everyone else we have at out-half. He’s the best player in the world and in relation to which other 10s go to Japan, it just depends on what you’re going for.

I think Joe Schmidt will bring three out-halves, as Joey Carbery and Johnny have both been injured lately, but it’s a tricky one. Jack Carty seems to have gone well every time he’s been given a chance, but if it’s based on ability, Joey’s definitely number two. It’s just a question of his fitness and how rusty he is.

It’ll be interesting, and Joe will be a little nervous with injury concerns in key positions.

Can Ireland still win it?

I don’t think the situation is as bad as it looks from the outside. I’ve been in the camp after losses and you’re in a bubble in Carton House and your training environment. You can still read the papers but nobody talks about the external noise, so whether people are saying either “Ireland are going to win the World Cup” or “Ireland won’t make it out of the group”, the players won’t be listening.

They’ll be focused on the next performance and how to get better. Andy Farrell, Simon Easterby and Joe will be working to get the confidence back up and attack the Millennium Stadium as best they can.

Joe definitely prefers having the underdog tag.

He tends to talk about it the odd time, so he won’t mind that. But teams like New Zealand and South Africa, against whom you’re potentially looking to face in the quarter-finals, they won’t fear Ireland at all, especially now that Felix Jones is with the Springboks. He knows Joe inside out.

There will be a lot more hurdles to jump if we’re to have a successful campaign, so it’s about getting back on the horse this weekend, putting in a good performance and trying to regain momentum ahead of the tournament.

Wales rugby

Looking ahead to Wales

The result of the Wales game won’t matter too much to me as an Irish supporter, but you’d like to see a reaction: I’m looking for more aggression and players going in to hurt some Welsh lads.

You can fix the finer details of it easier than you can fix fellas wanting to do damage. So if we see an upping of the physicality, then they’re in with a shout of winning. But it’s a tough place to go.

If we lose, it’ll depend on the manner.

Should we end up having lost to England and Wales but go out and top our group, it’s not the end of the world; it’d be a very good result. So first and foremost comes the performance in Cardiff; the rest should take care of itself.

Hopefully Ireland will be in with a shout of winning the game, but if Wales put out a full strength team they’ll probably be the favourites, because Joe still has a bit of experimenting to do and we still have a few injuries.

Our first World Cup game is against Scotland and they’ve looked pretty bad so far. They got a hiding from the French in Nice and didn’t impress in the return fixture, despite winning. So the door’s still wide open for us to have a good World Cup.

Wales 6/5, Draw 17/1, Ireland 8/11

What do you think?