VIDEO EXCLUSIVE: Big Jim's Big Interview with Simon Zebo - dealing with racism, Ireland and the 'Cartel'
Simon Zebo is in his first season with Racing 92. His summer move to Paris meant he was leaving behind any immediate hopes of adding to his tally of 35 Ireland caps and also his chance to play at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, due to Ireland’s policy of not selecting overseas-based players.
The 28-year-old sat down with Big Jim to discuss his move from Munster, life in Paris, the famed ‘Cartel’ with Conor Murray and Ian Madigan, the recent racism that he fielded while playing for Racing 92 at Ulster, Ireland and their World Cup hopes, the current Munster player he was surprised Joe Schmidt didn’t select in his Six Nations squad and life after rugby when he hangs up his boots.
Below is an excerpt transcript of the interview, click on the video to watch the interview in full.
Big Jim: What made you choose Racing 92 did you have many options?
Simon Zebo: “I had a few options to choose from, but I think in the end Paris was the right fit for me. The club is hugely ambitious and the calibre of players here is second to none. I really wanted to test myself in a new environment with world-class facilities, players, coaching team and president that are really hungry for trophies.
I think the mindset towards winning and achieving your goals would be very similar to Munster. It is a very family orientated club, it’s actually quite similar, it’s probably the French version of Munster, without the glitz and the glam I suppose!”
Big Jim: When you signed you were leaving Ireland behind, is there a possibility that you can be called back into the squad? Is Ireland a closed book, with your form at the minute you’re one of the form wingers in the Top 14. Is there an ambition there, has Joe Schmidt said anything?
Simon Zebo: “We haven’t been in too much contact to be honest, but from what I get I think I’d have to come back and play in Ireland if I wanted to play in the national set-up or start the process of coming back (to Ireland). if I decided to leave next year, then I’d be able to…I’d have more of a chance of getting back to some camps or some selections, but as of now it’s not really at the forefront of my mind.
“I am really enjoying my life here and my rugby has been going well and I’ve been having fun. I fell in love with rugby again over here, it has given me a new lease of life, new adventure, new surroundings, so I am really enjoying myself again.”
Big Jim: You had so many good years there (in Ireland), I wanted to ask you about the incident at Ulster. I think the whole world of rugby was shocked to hear that there had been an incident in that game, especially you going back to Ireland, can you tell us exactly what happened there, give us a bit more clarity around that?
Simon Zebo: “I knew I was in for a rough time from the crowd when I was going back to play.”
Big Jim: Why? Tell me why you were in for a rough time?
“An Irish player going back to play against another Irish team. Me scoring a try the last day against Ulster and not being shy about celebrating. The type of character I am, I am not an introverted type of person. I am not afraid to express myself, play with a smile on my face. Not everybody enjoys that or wants that to be the rugby-way. I was in for a tough time, got a good bit of stick from the crowd, which was quite entertaining for the most part from minute one to minute 40 when I came off.
“It was all good-natured and what have you, it was going in one ear and out the other for 90% of the game and I think somebody just got a little bit carried away and there was a lot of noise going on, that’s why it will probably be difficult to find. But it was like (clicks fingers) someone just came up and whispered in my ear, you know, it’s like someone saying ‘Hey Jim’, you know some things that click and stick with you. So it was pretty clear to me what was said, which was disappointing, that I was coming back to play in my own country again.
“It was something that happened to me quite a bit when I was younger, you know you’re dealing with other kids or children or teenagers, who don’t have the intellect or education at the time to understand how things like that can hurt a person. So it was even more disappointing that I went home and it was an elderly man, 40-plus, so that’s why it just annoyed me a bit. But it is water off a ducks back now for me, I’d be quite bullet-proof in terms of that.
“But I think if I was just to saying nothing and accept it, then I wouldn’t be putting up much of a fight for myself and I don’t want to come across as a weak character like that for my kids, you know, I stand up for something if I think I believe in it.”
Big Jim: Definitely the right thing. In this day and age it’s ridiculous to even hear that it happened. So, let me get this right, have you heard it or has he come up to you?
Simon Zebo: “I’ve heard it from the crowd”
Big Jim: What’s happened there, have you heard anything from Ulster as a club, has anyone been in contact? Has the issue been dealt with?
“Yeah the CEO of Ulster has been very, very good and very forthcoming in trying to help as much as possible, but I have just sent off my account of things to the EPCR. They’re going to investigate it as far as they can, but it is quite difficult in a full stadium if things like that happen. There have been a couple of people who have written to me privately on social media and things like that saying they heard the abuse and they’ve heard things being said. But at the same time you have to find a person, it’s quite tough. So I am happy that the investigation is going on or whatever, they are doing as much as they possibly can and a lot of players have come out and messaged me and text me and called me and been very supportive because it’s not really a nice thing. But yeah I’ve felt a lot of support and I can just forget about it now, I don’t want to give that negative energy too much attention.”
Watch the video for:
An explanation of the ‘Cartel’ with Conor Murray and Ian Madigan
Zebo’s thoughts on Ireland’s Six Nations squad,
The Munster player who he feels was unlucky to miss out on the 38-man squad
Joey Carbery and Johnny Sexton
What Ireland need to do to get beyond the World Cup quarter-final
His plans for life after rugby
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