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'I do not know what happened to me...

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'I do not know what happened to me that day. I'm not a bad guy'

Simon Zebo has insisted his run-in last October with Michael Lowry is past tense as he prepares to play in his native Ireland this weekend for the first time since his summer switch to Racing 92.

The former Munster back was asked by referee Nigel Owens to apologise after he tauntingly pointed his finger at Ulster rookie Lowry when he raced in to score Racing’s bonus point try in their convincing 44-12.

Zebo did so and while the incident dominated much of the post-game fall-out, the Corkman is now heading to Belfast for the return match against Ulster in Saturday adamant the case is fully closed.

“I do not know what happened to me that day,” said Zebo in the latest edition of Midi Olympique, the French rugby bi-weekly newspaper.

“I’m not a bad guy and for me, it was just fun. In training, we often do these little things after making a nice trick. I just get carried away by the excitement.

“On the spot, (Stuart) McCloskey ran to me, very upset. As for Nigel Owens, he just told me I did not have to do this kind of thing, that I was better than that: he also asked me to apologise… the case is now closed,” insisted Zebo, who even presented Lowry with his match jersey in the dressing room as a further act of contrition.

Lowry will be on the bench when Ulster take on Racing in this weekend’s round five Champions Cup encounter, and it will be interesting what type of reception Zebo will receive from opposition players and supporters at a Belfast ground where he has yet to be beaten by Ulster.

Munster won an October 2010 league game and drew in May 2015 when he previously faced the northerners at Kingspan, but he believes they are the province that best expresses itself in Ireland.

“Ulster is the Irish team that plays the most,’ he said, an opinion that should interest Zebo’s old rivals Leinster, the reigning European and PRO14 champions.

“The guys carry the ball, attack and attack again until you actually crack! Their three-quarter line of three is very fast. The key for us is to slow them down.”

Cut from the Ireland squad ever since he announced in October 2017 that he would be moving to France, Zebo admitted he hasn’t had any contact with national boss Joe Schmidt for quite some time and isn’t expecting an Ireland recall any time soon.

“So far, Joe Schmidt has not considered that I could be useful to the selection, so I will continue to have fun at Racing.

“If I do the World (Cup), it’s great. If not, it will not be the end of the world. Maybe I do not fit the player stereotype that can please the coach. Or maybe I’m not playing well enough at the moment. Anyway, it has been a long time since I have talked to Joe.”

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Johnny Sexton was the last overseas-based Ireland player whom Schmidt made an exemption for, including the out-half in his Test teams from 2013 to 2015 even though Sexton was playing for Racing at that time.

Sexton eventually returned home to Leinster without consistently playing at his best for the Parisians, but Zebo believes the language barrier, which doesn’t apply to him as he is fluent in French, was one of two issues that hindered him.

“Johnny is a general: he likes to lead, to talk to others, to order the game and he probably had a hard time passing his views in a language that was not his.

“He may have had difficulties, too, in adapting to the French game. Here, the players are more free, there are more off-loads and less instructions.

“Everything is very structured in Ireland: phase after phase, everyone knows their place in the field. The players follow the determined script.”

Zebo has quickly settled into the French way, adding he is enjoying the run of constant matches in the Top 14, a tournament he feels is more competitive and popular than the PRO14.

“On the final stages of the Champions Cup or derby weekends against Leinster, I know there are extraordinary atmospheres. But the Celtic League, only two or three teams fight for the title and it doesn’t have the popular reach of the Top 14.

“In France, over the weeks, there are always more fans, more and more fans, more and more noise. It’s everything I imagined.

“Until last year, I played a maximum of 24 games per season. In Munster, I never played, for example, four consecutive games and, when a big Champions Cup match was announced, we were systematically put to rest 10 days before.

“In France, every game has its importance: sometimes, it’s to avoid relegation, other times to hang on to a place in the finals. The club presidents have invested: they want titles, they want their internationals to play, win and that’s normal. In Ireland, IRFU manages the size of the four provinces as it sees fit. They are the boss.”

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'I do not know what happened to me that day. I'm not a bad guy' | RugbyPass