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What the tongue-in-cheek Sexton texted Ireland recall Simon Zebo

By Liam Heagney

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Ireland skipper Johnny Sexton has revealed what he tongue-in-cheek sent Simon Zebo last week after he was recalled to the national team squad for the first time since 2017. Back three player Zebo fell out of the reckoning when he announced in October four years ago that he would be joining Racing 92 at the end of that season.    

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Joe Schmidt, the then Ireland coach, took the draconian decision to leave Zebo out of plans with immediate effect even though he was still at Munster for the November 2017 internationals and the following 2018 Grand Slam-winning Six Nations campaign.

Zebo, though, always believed he would eventually return to the Ireland fold and having since returned this season from France to play his club rugby again with Munster, he was included by Andy Farrell in the Test squad for the upcoming games versus Japan, New Zealand and Argentina. 

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Ex-England skipper Chris Robshaw guests on the RugbyPass Offload
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Ex-England skipper Chris Robshaw guests on the RugbyPass Offload

Veteran out-half Sexton is delighted to see his former colleague back in the mix, revealing he couldn’t resist having some fun last week at the expense of the 31-year-old who is now in line to add to his 35-cap haul after a four-and-a-half-year wait since a June 2017 outing versus Japan.

“I texted to congratulate him and I said it is great, we have needed an extra couple of bag holders and hopefully he can add to his five or six caps that he has,” quipped Sexton. 

“No, he is a great guy to have back. He is a great character, a great player and he is on form. Hopefully, he can come in and train well and get himself in the team because he is an asset when he is on form, that left boot and the way he attacks the line. We will be looking forward to having him back. We have missed him in the camp.”

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Ireland’s headline game next month is the November 13 encounter in Dublin versus the All Blacks, an opposition they have defeated twice in the last five years. Sexton is naturally enthusiastic about that fixture but has warned that Japan, the other team that defeated Ireland at the 2019 World Cup, must be taken care of first on November 6. “It’s the same as you always get against the All Blacks, you are testing yourself against more often or not the No1 team in the world. 

“They are No2 at the moment but they are playing pretty well so it will be a huge Test. For us, we have had some great performances since Andy has come in but it is that consistency that we need to get in our team now. We need to put in three big performances in a row and that is something we haven’t done so far. 

“We are pretty focused on getting out there and putting our best foot forward against Japan which will lead us well into New Zealand but all our focus is on Japan. We know more than anyone you have got to be on your game when you play against them.”

Sexton is just one appearance away from becoming an Ireland Test centurion at the age of 36. It would be a milestone he would cherish, but he is not taking anything for granted following a summer where he was overlooked for Lions selection. 

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“It would be a very special day. When you get your first cap at 24 you never think you will get to 100 so it will be a special day for me and my family if it happens, but I have learned over the last year you never plan too far ahead. Let’s get training started, get out on the pitch and try and get in the team first.

“Lots of small little things can make a difference,” he said about how he is managing to keep himself going at Test level in his mid-to-late 30s. “You try to improve year on year. Look, I have been by no means perfect with my injury profile over the last number of years but I am always trying to find ways to get better on that front and it is no different this year. I am feeling good at the moment. 

“I haven’t played a crazy amount of rugby over the last five months. I had a break over the summer and then eased back into it with Leinster over the course of the last five games and was involved at different stages. I am just looking forward to the series coming up. A lot of new faces in the Ireland camp as well. It is an exciting place to be.”

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What the tongue-in-cheek Sexton texted Ireland recall Simon Zebo

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