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Simon Zebo happy to pay high price for Paris life

By Brendan O’Brien

The show was almost over by the time Simon Zebo’s moment presented itself against Ulster late on Saturday night.

Racing 92’s full-back took a pass from Ben Volavola inside the opposition 22 and, with acres of space, had the time to tease his opposite number Michael Lowry before touching down and celebrating in his own inimitable way.

With the massive, 2,600 square metre HD screen behind the goal projecting his smile to the stadium, and the club’s cheerleaders on hand to partake in the victory dance, it was only natural to think that Zebo had found a stage to suit his style.

The goading gesture towards Lowry had to be countered with an apology after a stern word from referee Nigel Owens but that was a minor bump on a nascent journey which has already delivered seven tries in as many starts for his new club.

“It has definitely been everything I thought it would be and more. I’m delighted I made the decision. It was a big decision for me to make to come to Paris considering what I had at home but I am very happy I did. They are a great bunch of guys, great coaching team.

“I’m playing in quality atmospheres every week, which is exciting. When you’re playing away from home you really feel that it is a little bit different in terms of the leagues. Change is always good and new is good. I’m enjoying it a lot and hopefully, I can continue to do so.”

It’s a change that has come at a price.

He knew the deal: that his self-imposed exile on the continent would draw a line through his international career and that there will be nobody back at Lansdowne Road for turning now.

The desire to wear a green jersey remains - a “candle still burning in my mind,” he called it - but there will be no pangs of regrets when Joe Schmidt names his squad for November this week and S. Zebo isn’t on that list.

“No, no. Down the line I would probably have to solidify my form. It would have to be a whole season long, I would have to score a try every single game, be man of the match. That’s the way it is,” he explained with a smile.

“I haven’t talked to ... people back home in about a year now. If there is no communication coming, I know the deal so I am not going to sit around crossing my fingers. I’m just going to keep enjoying my rugby here.”

And enjoying it he clearly is.

The talent around him is breathtaking. His wingers on Saturday were Juan Imhoff and Teddy Thomas and, in Finn Russell, he has an out-half whose approach to rugby - and life in general - is broadcast on the same wavelength.

“It’s just a different environment and a different culture here.

“That’s not taking anything away from back home, because that was the best for me while I was there too. But the way I play my rugby, there are just certain things that can flourish and there are other things that can flourish back home.

“There’s no shackles, there’s no fear, we’re able to do things. Just one call or one whisper on the pitch and it happens.”

Racing have still to find their groove this year. The defeat of Ulster may well have been their best performance of the season but Zebo spoke of a need to tighten up on the volume of handling errors and a need to rein in such admirable ambition at times.

It’s a fine balance to strike for a French side sprinkled so liberally with foreign stars and wedded to an image of glitz and glamour and there is a similar act for Zebo who admits that he hasn’t exactly turned his nose up at the local cuisine.

“Food has never been my strong point in terms of discipline but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I am the way I am, and I’m not going to change. I’m feeling good, I’m feeling fresh, my mind is fresh more so than anything, which means I have a little bit extra drive.

“When you’re in the same place for so long, playing the same thing over and over again, it’s just natural that the ambition wouldn’t always be as strong as it is coming into a new environment, a new team and trying to impress new people.”