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Zebo Reflects On Winning Start To GUINNESS Series

Zebo Reflects On Winning Start To GUINNESS Series

Winger Simon Zebo insists Ireland can mix it with the best teams in the world after their commanding 29-15 victory over South Africa on Saturday.

The two-try win over one of the best sides in world rugby gives Ireland plenty of momentum heading into their remaining GUINNESS Series games against Georgia and Australia.

Simon Zebo won his first six Ireland caps between June 2012 and June 2013, before a foot injury saw him miss last year’s GUINNESS Series and he was unable to force his way back in for the Six Nations title-winning campaign.

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The Corkman returned to international duty on the summer tour to Argentina, starting both games against the Pumas and scoring his third Test try.

He held onto his starting wing spot for the South Africa match on Saturday and is clearly relishing being part of a squad that is high on confidence and belief.

“We’d have the confidence and belief that on our day we can live with anybody. Last year the boys lived up to the All Blacks for as long as possible, 80 minutes, and were unlucky not to come up with the win. No matter who the opposition are, we’re confident we can go out and do a job if we’re firing on all cylinders,” said Zebo.

Ireland went in at the break with two Jonathan Sexton penalties giving them a 6-3 buffer. That allowed them to regroup says Zebo, and two minutes after the restart flanker Rhys Ruddock took advantage of a well-worked lineout maul to dive over for a timely try.

“We probably didn’t hold on to the ball enough. South Africa have a lot of really big ball carriers, so if they get any bit of momentum they’ll be a seriously dangerous side.

“I suppose we were happy half-time came, we got to regroup and we knew the next score would be a vital one and we got some vital scores at vital times.

“We really wanted to attack at the start of the second half. We believe in the systems we have and the direction the team wants to go. When we set our goals for the season or the second half, whatever it may be, we fully believe we can go out and achieve them. Scoring the first points of the second half was one of them. It gave us momentum to go on.”

There was plenty of pre-match talk about how the new centre pairing of Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw would fare, particularly as Payne was making his Ireland debut in the famous number 13 jersey and inside centre Henshaw, with only one previous Test start, has played most of his rugby with Connacht at either full-back or outside centre.

But Zebo knew the pair would step up to the plate with strong performances. Collectively, the midfield duo were very solid in defence and Henshaw received plaudits for a fine kick-and-chase effort in the build-up to Ruddock’s try.

“They’re unbelievably talented players, the two boys are very experienced. Robbie also, even though he’s so young (at 21).

“At the end of the day it’s another game of rugby, so all the hype building up around the two boys was a bit much, but the boys put in a great performance and they’re well able no matter who the opposition are.”

Zebo is hoping to make the most of his current run in Ireland starting line-up – he has worn the number 11 jersey for the last three Tests – and insisted that the high number of absentees through injury was not a concern in the build-up to Saturday’s game.

“There’s never really an excuse of injuries. It is part and parcel of the game and it’s going to happen to any squad. There is great depth in the players we have in this country so anybody can step up and do a job.

“Joe gives that inner belief to all members of the squad and whoever’s lucky enough to get the shirt will go out and do it proud no matter who it is.”

Schmidt commented on the matter himself, saying: “It’s funny, I didn’t mention the injuries once. I think I was asked about them a lot, so I responded to questions. But never did we say that injuries were going to compromise what we were trying to do.”

Ireland’s defence was immense on the night, stopping South Africa on two occasions in the first half when young out-half Handre Pollard was called upon to kick penalties to touch rather than going for goal.

However, there were a few aspects of the game that Zebo feels Ireland will need to improve on, with a tough Georgian outfit and Michael Cheika’s Wallabies next up at the Aviva Stadium.

“There’s obviously parts of the game that we weren’t too happy with and we’ll need to iron out for next weekend and the weekend after,” he added.

“We put in a big shift defensively and the boys up front really stepped up physically and matched the Springboks which is a tough task to do. It was a big physical performance and there are a lot of sore bodies inside (in the dressing room).”