SIMON ZEBO ADMITS life in Paris — both on and off the pitch — has surpassed his expectations as he takes stock of the first half of an exceptional season with Racing 92.

Despite only joining the Top 14 club last summer, the Irish fullback has settled into his new surroundings seamlessly, becoming one of the stars of an expensively-assembled Racing outfit.

Zebo has been in brilliant form for Racing this season. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

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Five tries during the Heineken Champions Cup pool stages not only helped Racing into the quarter-finals and earned him a nomination for the EPCR Player of the Year award, but Zebo was also named in Midi Olympique’s Top 14 Team of the Year for 2018.

The former Munster man has flourished in an environment where expansive, free-flowing rugby is encouraged, forming a formidable partnership with Scotland out-half Finn Russell at the U Arena.

“It’s gone well,” he smiles. “I’ve really enjoyed my time on and off the pitch, it’s a pretty cool city. Lots to do, lots to do with my family. The rugby side of things has been excellent.

“I’ve really enjoyed my time playing with world-class players, from 1 to 15. It’s been really good, challenging at times. The experience has been everything I thought it would be, and more.”

Zebo has augmented his five European tries this term with seven in the league, wasting little time in blazing his way to the top of the Top 14 try-scoring charts before Christmas, although he has now dropped down to second behind team-mate Virimi Vakatawa.

“I’m enjoying it, yeah,” the Cork native continues. “I’ve had a good run of games, scoring a few tries and linking up well with Finn and the other backs we have.

Zebo admits he’s playing with more freedom at Racing than he had done at Munster or in a green jersey: “Just the mindset is a little bit different and how to approach the game. There’s definitely a bit more freedom for the likes of myself and Finn and for all the other dangerous backs we have. It’s very much play what you see, risk and reward type stuff.

“Just the whole new environment, the new team, the new atmosphere, the new stadium, the new league. It’s just so exciting and fresh. Things in Munster were obviously great and playing for Ireland was great, but this is a new challenge and a different motivation.”

Despite his ridiculously rich vein of form and world-class ability, Zebo was fully aware of the consequences of leaving Munster at the end of last season. 

Zebo has scored 12 tries this term. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Out of sight and out of mind, Joe Schmidt has shut the door on the 28-year-old’s international aspirations since he announced his decision to seek a new challenge in Paris.

Back home this week to spend time with family and friends during the mid-season break, Zebo smiles, and then shakes his head, when asked if the Ireland head coach had made any sort of contact with him in the last six months.

Last week, Tommy Bowe — who was selected for Ireland despite playing outside the island for Ospreys — said Zebo, whose last cap was against Japan in June 2017, should be in Schmidt’s World Cup squad later this year, irrespective of the unwritten overseas selection policy.

Zebo, however, doesn’t take much notice of what’s been said elsewhere, admitting his chances of playing in the World Cup ‘wouldn’t be too high’.

“I don’t take too much notice of it,” he added. “It is what it is. I’m not getting a look in at the moment so that’s understandable. Special cases or whatever for Johnny [Sexton] and Tommy and for these people who have played abroad in the past.

“If they’re trying to do a certain thing with rugby in Ireland and they want players to be playing here, I understand that. My World Cup hopes wouldn’t be too high but hopefully, if I keep playing well and, touch wood there isn’t, but if there are a couple of injuries then I might get a look in.”

Simon Zebo was speaking in Dublin this morning as he was unveiled as a Paddy Power ambassador for the Six Nations.

Join us to preview the Six Nations with Simon Zebo, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey on Thursday @7pm in Liberty Hall Theatre Dublin.