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homecoming Simon Zebo is anxious to kick-start his second coming with Munster

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Ready to kick on: Simon Zebo during Munster rugby squad training at the University of Limerick. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Ready to kick on: Simon Zebo during Munster rugby squad training at the University of Limerick. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

imon Zebo of Munster during the United Rugby Championship match between Glasgow Warriors and Munster at Scotstoun Stadium in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Paul Devlin/Sportsfile

imon Zebo of Munster during the United Rugby Championship match between Glasgow Warriors and Munster at Scotstoun Stadium in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Paul Devlin/Sportsfile

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Ready to kick on: Simon Zebo during Munster rugby squad training at the University of Limerick. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Simon Zebo came home to play rugby last summer but he has yet to really arrive.

Instead of enjoying his second coming, he has been forced to endure it.

There have been a myriad of factors preventing the man with the X-factor from hitting the high notes.

Chiefly, Covid complications, following his club’s unwittingly calamitous pre-Christmas South African trek, condemning him – and so many others – to a lengthy period in self-isolation, then mandatory quarantine on return to Ireland.

Then there was a red card against Ulster which, in one of those complicated refereeing farces wearyingly familiar when it comes to how head collisions are officiated, saw him red-carded but then later exonerated.

Except it all meant another match week would pass him by, much like most of the season, it seemed.

And so it has all meant that, far from making any real impression on the international squad, he has even struggled to re-impose himself on Johann van Graan’s Munster side as they bid to end their trophy drought.

He remains vivacious off the field. But on it?

“I don’t know,” he chuckles wryly. “I haven’t played that much so I don’t know too much of that myself!”

Zebo committed his future to the province last month but he is more concerned with dedicating himself to the present.

He has mostly been out of sight but not out of mind; after all, Andy Farrell did draft him into his November squad, even if he spent the month on the side-lines.

It almost compounded the irony of thieved game-time; had he not been there, he might have played for Munster but ultimately did neither.

Instead, both teams have moved on, mostly without, not with, him in their ranks.

“I’ve no complaints over that,” he says of the November no-show. “I hadn’t played any rugby so obviously going into November, I didn’t play.

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“It was mostly about getting up to speed and then trying to kick forward towards the Six Nations. But I didn’t play any rugby so I’ve no complaints.

“There have been boys in my province and other provinces going well so they’re rightly rewarded. For me personally, it’s about trying to get a run of games and get a nice rhythm heading into the back end of the season.”

Stephen Larkham was amongst those excited to welcome Zebo back, and then disappointed not to have enough time to work with him until now; yet he feels that the Corkonian can still make a lasting impression in red and green.

“He has been tremendous in our environment,” says the outgoing Aussie. “I don’t want to talk him up too much, he’s already got a big head.

“But he’s good. What he adds around the place, he’s always got energy and he sees the game well.

“He’s always got energy around the place in terms of having a bit of fun but also he’s got energy in terms of the strategies and tactics we’re using week to week.

“He’s balanced, he’s skilful, he sees things that other guys don’t see and he’s fast.

“I guess he’s one of my favourites, he’ll hate me for saying that. I think he has been tremendous since he’s come back.

“What does he need to do to go further particularly with the Irish team? I think he’s just got to get game-time. We haven’t seen a lot of him.

“He got red-carded in one game and played in another couple of games, but the plan is to get him out there to play a few more games and I think that will help his chances at the next level.”

Zebo’s optimism has not been dimmed.

“I feel fresh, I haven’t played a lot of rugby for one reason or another.

“Hopefully now we can find some consistency and rhythm and attack the end of the season and try to win some silverware.”

And, he hopes, win even more hearts.

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