David Corkery: Will Simon Zebo's return be the trigger Munster needs?

Leesider still have the class to emulate Johnny Sexton and deliver for Ireland and his province in his 30s
David Corkery: Will Simon Zebo's return be the trigger Munster needs?

Munster's all-time record try scorer Simon Zebo is to return from France to Ireland for the 2021-22 season, the province has announced. 

NO REST for the wicked, but what a brilliant opportunity for Munster to turn the tide of desolation and lift a monkey from their backs that is curtailing everything they are trying to achieve.

With only three weeks since Toulouse so ruthlessly ejected Johann van Graan’s men from the Champions Cup, and four since Leinster so clinically and methodically beat them in the Guinness Pro14 final, the time to lace up the boots has once again come about. And who better to lock horns with, other than their nearest and dearest rivals!

The big question for Leinster and Leo Cullen is whether or not he will go full metal jacket for this game or rest some of his key players for their Champions Cup semi-final against La Rochelle seven days later.

I think we’ve all heard the expression 'victims of your own success' and this scenario seems to have now landed firmly on the door of Leinster rugby.

There isn’t one person on this island that could disagree that Leinster and their systems are light years ahead of all the rest, but there will come a time when the standards they have set and the success they have achieved will just become impossible to maintain and I wonder if that time arrived.

Should Cullen and his coaching ticket choose to give their players a dress rehearsal for their Champions Cup semi-final in the South West of France, then I think we all know who the winners will be. However, should they take the opportunity to roll out their so-called second string or peripheral players, then Munster must take the occasion by the scruff of the neck and use it to exorcise the strangle-hold the blue jersey has over them.

Yes, I agree that this Rainbow Cup might be a once-off tournament that has only come about in an attempt to raise some much-needed revenue and its significance will soon be lost in the archives. For Munster, though, it has come at a time when their need for success is at an all-time high and they need to take it as seriously as they would a European Cup game.

The news of Simon Zebo’s return to his native land has been greeted with much applause. However, it must not be looked upon as the answer to Munster’s problems, more of a starting point in them invigorating the province's DNA.

Lots of things have changed since Zebo boarded the plane to Paris three years ago and the Munster he left behind was in a very different place to the one he will find when he returns.

In 2018 when Zebo joined the Racing 92, Munster were in a bad place.

Today, they find themselves in an even bigger hole having lost their identity and much of the fear that once infested the away dressing rooms of Thomand Park has vanished.

The 16th man is not as effective as it once was and the trophy cabinet hasn’t been opened in such a long time that the caretaker has lost the keys.

Some might argue that, at 31, Zebo’s best rugby might well be behind him and his chances of making his way into the Irish squad are slim. However, many also thought the same about Keith Earls and Johnny Sexton who, at 33 and 35, respectively are still producing world-class performances.

A one-year contract is of little use to any player who is looking to make a difference, but what Zebo will bring to the party is that little bit of rebelliousness that has been missing since he left.

FLAIR PLAYER

Never one to stick to the rigidness of the playbook, Zebo likes to take chances and when your backs are to the wall and the clock is ticking Zebo is the ideal candidate to gather the ball deep in his own half and somehow find holes in defences where others would see impenetrable walls.

It will be interesting to see how Zebo’s “free spirit” attitude fits into the overly structured game plan of van Graan and whether Munster will look to change how they play in order to get the ball to him more often.

My hope is that van Graan relaxes his grasp on how Munster have been playing and allows for the inner workings of Stephen Larkham to express his influence on Zebo, Andrew Conway, Joey Carbery, and Keith Earls because, when Munster do decide to put width on the ball, they look very dangerous.

Their problems usually occur when they revert to their wasteful kicking game and all the good work their forwards have done is wasted with a speculative up and under.

As for Zebo’s Irish aspirations?

I guess how he plays for Munster will determine that, but we sure could have done with him in Japan for the last World Cup and let’s pray the 60 tries he has scored in his first stretch with Munster will be significantly increased over the next 12 months.

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