SIMON ZEBO IS capable of individual moments of brilliance, but the 24-year-old has fully grasped the notion that team performance is of more importance than any personal honours.
As he and his Munster teammates prepare to face Leinster at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday night in the Pro12, the left wing points out that his focus is group-based.
“It’s definitely all about the collective. No individuals win games, so it’s going to be about going out there and putting in a good collective performance, inter-linking the forwards and backs, and hopefully getting the points on the board early.”
Hopefully I’ll be able to put in a big performance. If we do that and the 22 other players give a great impact then players will be able to flourish on the back of that. There’ll be no flair players able to win a game on their own and it’s going to be a massive test for us all.”
Despite that concentration on fitting into Munster’s patterns and delivering for his teammates, there remains a sense that Zebo could have a say in the outcome of Saturday’s game thanks to his running ability.
With five tries in his last six games for Munster, the Cork man is growing in confidence and sharpness all the time. After missing 10 weeks of the season with a foot injury sustained against Edinburgh in October, Zebo is reaping the benefits of having accumulated less game time than others.
“It’s really exciting for me now on the back of scoring a couple of tries and playing well during the Six Nations. I still wouldn’t be really near my top level yet, I’ve still got a lot to improve.
“But the injury at the start of the season could be a little blessing in disguise because I’m feeling very fresh and I’m just about hitting the peak around the business end provincially.”
Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO
Zebo admits that this week is different to those that have gone before at Munster, with “a bit of a bite to training” as they ready themselves for Leinster. After the dour win over Treviso last weekend, the upcoming inter-provincial derby marks the start of Rob Penney’s men building “momentum” into the back end of the season.
Munster v Leinster has taken on great significance in recent seasons and Zebo goes as far as to say “it’s like a Heineken Cup final every time we play.”
Some clubs would prefer a less demanding Pro12 tie the weekend before they play Toulouse in a Heineken Cup quarter-final, but the Ireland international sees it as an ideal build-up.
We need to feel the intensity of such a big game and properly open out the lungs, really understand the pressure situations and get used to them going into the Heineken Cup. Because this game could be won by a point and it could be the same the following week. So if we’re more used to these tight games, it’ll benefit us in the long run.”
Zebo played no part in Ireland’s recent Six Nations triumph, with Joe Schmidt preferring Andrew Trimble and Dave Kearney on the wings, as Fergus McFadden provided support from the bench.
Again going back to the collective focus, Zebo insists getting one over on direct international rivals is not at the forefront of this thought process. However, he is honest enough to admit that familiarity breeds increased levels of aggression.
“It doesn’t really matter, but obviously there’s a bit more bite to these Leinster games and getting a run at one of the Kearney brothers, you’d obviously have an extra bit of bite about you.
“Having said that, we’re still friends at the end of the day. Come this weekend, I’ll be looking to take their heads off and the same for them with me, so it’s going to be a great occasion.”
Audio courtesy of Aoife Danagher.