Simon Zebo: Johnny won’t want a rest – let him play!

The Racing 92 star discusses Scotland’s ‘shocking’ forward performance on Sunday, and looks ahead to Ireland’s next few games

Simon Zebo Conor Murray Johnny Sexton


Scotland omnishambles limited chances for Finn Russell to shine

It was a tough day for Finn Russell on Sunday. Ireland did well to put pressure on him, as I hoped they would, and he wasn’t really helped much by the players around him. His pack, in particular, were absolutely shocking. It was as bad a performance from a group of forwards as I’ve seen in a while.

It’s pretty hard as a 10 to playmake and to gain momentum in your own game if your forwards are going backwards at a rate of knots. Finn just needs a bit more help from his team-mates. He won’t be happy with either his own performance or of the collective.

Expect a better showing from Scotland in the next fixtures.

The perfect start for Ireland

From an Ireland point of view, it was a great way to start the tournament. A lot of guys who needed to play well and answer some critics did so. The opposition wasn’t at a very high level, but the tournament’s all about gaining that momentum. In theory that was the hardest game of the pool, so it’s great to have it out of the way and be able to focus on improving from week to week towards the quarter-finals.

It appears as if Ireland are timing their return to form well, and I hope that’s the case. The past few weeks have been encouraging, with better individual and team form than across most of 2019.

Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray coming back and playing well has contributed to that. Key players are performing and that’s hugely important. From that point everybody can buy into what’s happening as a whole.

Stiffer tests clearly await Ireland, especially as you look towards potential quarter-final opponents. That’ll be another level, but hopefully the momentum continues and Ireland go into the knockout stages in good shape. It’s a funny old thing: a good result or two and in the space of a few matches you go from being written off to having people, all of a sudden, say Ireland are going to win the World Cup.

Chris Farrell stakes his claim, while Sexton won’t want to miss a minute

Chris Farrell was probably the standout player in Ireland’s backline, having come on as a substitute. He hit up with a few line breaks and classy offloads – and played like the powerhouse that he is.

I’ve played with him and I know how good he is and what he’s capable of. A couple of his touches against Scotland really stood out and showcased his potential to rip up any team. It was great to watch.

Aside from Chris, Johnny and Conor controlled the game well.

They played when they had to play and they continue to show their quality. Despite being injured, Johnny wouldn’t want to be rested too much for the remainder of the pool. He’ll want to keep playing – it’s a World Cup and every game is massively important.

You want him to hit the ground running in the quarter-final, so it’s likely there’ll be a conversation between him and Joe about what he feels he needs and the real extent of the injury. If it’s just a little dead leg then he’ll drive on and continue to build his form.

Players need to be playing with each other week in, week out, in order to develop relationships, particularly as the games get bigger. If Johnny’s fit, I’d play him as much as possible.

Knowing him so well, he’ll want to just jump straight back into it. And if I was the coach, I’d let him play.

On to Japan

Japan can be a deadly side. I played against them a few years ago and they were very impressive: they hit hard and they chop you low. They put a lot of speed and tempo into the game and they have some very quick backs.

They’re capable of causing an upset, and on form they seem to be a better team than Scotland. They could pose a threat and won’t go away so easy.

Japan 8/1, Draw 35/1, Ireland 1/16

What do you think?