Simon Zebo: Farrell's Ireland is more united than Schmidt's
The Munster winger, having featured for Ireland in the Autumn internationals, is not part of Farrell’s 2022 squad, but has commended the comradery within that dressing room in spite of his absence.
Zebo also previously let it be known that he thought Joe Schmidt’s tactics as Ireland coach were too conservative for his taste and that the squad was not selected on form.
When speaking to Le French Rugby Podcast this week, Zebo said “I won’t bash on Joe or anything. Andy is really attack-minded. It’s a different style, a different coach, a different outlook on the game. He wants players to go out and express themselves. He wants the wingers to get their hands on the ball as much as possible and score tries.
“The atmosphere around camp is a lot more relaxed. The players are really enjoying each other’s company and that’s as important as playing well or training well. You can see there’s a strength in the bond in the players up there which wasn’t there in the past when I was up there.”
Directly after the Autumn Internationals, Peter O’Mahony admitted that the month had been the most enjoyable of his career and Zebo thinks that optimism will only benefit the national team.
“Everybody is itching to represent their country,” he said. “There’s huge competition for places which only bodes well for Irish rugby.”
Changes in spirit and style have given Ireland a newfound edge which makes their upcoming matchup in Paris against pre-tournament favourites France all the more enticing.
“The culture that Farrell has brought in is attack minded,” Zebo said. “In the past we would have gone over to France and tried not to lose the game but now they will be certainly going out to win the game. We saw how well their attack clicked against Wales.”
One thing that hasn’t changed since Farrell replaced Schmidt is the crux of Ireland’s attack. Johnny Sexton is still the beating heart of the Irish back line but Montpellier head coach Philippe Saint Andre sees the flyhalf’s influence waning, claiming Ireland would be better without him. Zebo was quick to oppose this perspective.
“Johnny’s playing some of the best rugby he’s played through his career. He’s been a previous world player of the year, multiple champions cup winner and Six Nations Grand Slam winner. To say at his age now that he is playing some of the best rugby of his career shows a lot about the man and the player. I think the French would prefer if he wasn’t playing.”
The speed at which Sexton was able to feed teammates suffocated the Welsh defence and Zebo thinks a similarly fast turnover of ball at the breakdown will help stifle the French.
“We have plenty of big ball carriers, but not the same size as the French, so it’ll be really interesting to see who dominates the speed of the ruck. We have to keep the tempo high and make the conditions so tough that it’s harder for France to do the simple things well.
“The French crowd will play their part. When they get their tails up, that atmosphere is pretty electric. It’ll be a very tough game but the French didn’t look as impressive last week as they did over the past couple of months.”
Both Ireland and France remain unbeaten in 2022 and are considered the two front runners for the Six Nations trophy. With squad unity on his side, Farrell has every chance of leading the team to their first Grand Slam title since 2018.
“All the Irish players are firing at such a high level,” Zebo said. “It doesn’t seem to matter who you put in front of this team, they’re looking really sharp. Even at the Stade de France I think we have a slight edge.”
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