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Monday 5 December 2016

Zebo: we can mix art with graft for French

Zebo has had to shelve his 'sexy rugby' style

Simon Zebo is tackled by Italy's Simone Favaro last Sunday
Simon Zebo is tackled by Italy's Simone Favaro last Sunday
Cian Healy during a gym session yesterday

Simon Zebo must know the very thing that makes him different is the very thing that could destroy Ireland.

The 25-year-old is blessed not so much with the X-Factor, but the F for French-Factor inherited from his father Arthur, who hails from Martinique, a French-owned island in the Caribbean which trades as a member of the European Union.

"I'd say my background does come into my style of play," said Zebo.

"My family would be very expressive and I think you can see it in my personality and my character that I play the way I am behind closed doors.

"I just go out, try to enjoy myself and execute the skills to try to help the team.

"I've played against France before so the surprise element to it is gone and my family is the same. It's not as special as it was the first time.

"But, if selected it would be a great occasion to play against my second country.

"I haven't spoken to my dad much this week, but I think he will have his Irish jersey on this weekend!"

Of course, the 'F' could also stand for the Flair annually produced by France in the 1980s and 1990s.

Dominant

Sadly, the advent of professionalism has pushed the French physical characteristics of being 'bigger, faster, stronger' in order to become dominant rather than their feeling for the finesse of former full-back Serge Blanco and centre Philippe Sella.

Current coach Philippe Saint Andre still has the fine wine quality of Louis Picamoles, Wesley Fofana and the injured Yoann Huget.

What he chooses to do with them is both distastefully unimaginative and a stain on the game.

The decision of the French to turn away from what made them great to watch has led them down a path of the destroyer as opposed to their incarnation as the great creator.

The tenuous hold Saint-Andre has on his post has led to rumours of revolt, or at least resentment, from within his ranks.

Will France finally throw off the shackles and rediscover the passion for style that makes it unique and makes even New Zealand tremble at the thought of tackling their World Cup nemesis?

It is not exactly a tightly-wrapped secret that the All Blacks fear the French even more than they don't fear the Irish.

In truth, Zebo has had to shelve, even dispose of the idea of 'sexy rugby' and apply himself to the graft demanded by coach Joe Schmidt to make the Ireland World Cup squad.

He has tailored his game to become a viable option to Rob Kearney at full-back and to Tommy Bowe, Dave Kearney, Keith Earls and Luke Fitzgerald as a wing.

Zebo has had to work harder at the parts of the game that don't come as naturally to him, the defensive detail, aerial domination and working hard off the ball.

There is a theory doing the rounds that Schmidt has a specific plan to undo France, one woven through time and kept on ice for Sunday.

The unconvincing dross served up against an admittedly fired-up Italy certainly won't do the trick.

"This will be a very physical game I'd say, it will come down to small margins, the little errors will be costly - but if it opens up, then all the better," added Zebo.

"I think we've an extremely talented pack that will give us momentum hopefully, and a great backline to run off it.

"We've all the confidence in our own team to mix it with them if it gets loose."

This runs contrary to everything Schmidt has been building towards.

Ireland have been about detail, structure, kicking, discipline and defence.

Schmidt has devised game-plans to outmanoeuvre larger packs through the identification of weakness in the opposition and the exploitation of it.

To do this, they have to hold their own in the collisions or else France will do what Italy couldn't - make them pay the price.

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