Simon Zebo ahead of Ireland’s Autumn Nations Series campaign

Between 2012 and 2017 Simon Zebo earned 35 caps for Ireland
©Autumn Nations Series

Following their summer in New Zealand, Andy Farrell’s Ireland are certainly on cloud nine heading into their Autumn Nations Series campaign.

Beating the All Blacks across three Tests, Ireland established themselves as World Rugby’s #1 ranked side and will be hoping to carry on their momentum into fixtures against South Africa, Fiji and Australia.

Watching on from the side lines will be former Ireland international Simon Zebo, the 32-year-old Munster back not involved in Ireland’s plans at present and instead will be analysing the team as a pundit for Amazon Prime Video.

It took some time under Farrell for the squad to get the ball rolling, but now the ceiling has never been higher. Now coming into this run of fixtures, Zebo believes it is the perfect trio of clashes to help the squad develop further with less than a year to go until the Rugby World Cup.

“There is no better confidence building than going down to New Zealand and winning a series and getting some form out from a World Cup,” he said.

“The timeframe we are now, it’s excellent and it bodes well for a tough Autumn series, but it could be a time to try and test some new players, but results will be at the forefront of the mind and picking up a win against South Africa the world champions would be unbelievable.

“Then you probably look to blood in players against Fiji and give some guys an opportunity, and then Australia to finish. It will be a tough series, but one that could further boost the confidence going into the Six Nations and then the World Cup.”

Man in the middle

Much of Ireland’s success always seems to revolve around the team’s captain, and fly-half, Johnny Sexton. Now 37, Sexton’s importance has never seemed so critical to his country’s performances, even though eyebrows were raised when he took on the captaincy for the new World Cup cycle.

Upon signing a contract extension with the IRFU until after the 2023 tournament in France, Sexton did confirm that he would be retiring from the game, meaning he will be putting plenty into this final act of his career.

A significant concern that surrounds Ireland is that without Sexton, there seems to be no plan B. With 108 caps to his name, the next most experienced fly-half in Ireland in Joey Carbery [35], while Ciaran Frawley is deemed to be the next cab off the rank but at 24, but has not yet made his debut.

In the case of Carbery and Sexton, there are concerns about each of their durability. Maybe in the grander scheme of it all, Sexton’s durability is more of interest. 

As the years have gone by, the Leinster playmaker has taken a little longer to get up from certain challenges, but in the eyes of his former teammate there are more positives than negatives to Sexton’s involvement on the field.

“I think he’s playing some of the best rugby he’s ever played,” Sexton said. “He just looks like the complete general out in the field, he is able to orchestrate everything good that Ireland do, that Leinster do and his age hasn’t taken a toll.

“Obviously if you play as flat to the line as Johnny does and you such in defenders the way that Johnny does, you are going to get hits. Sometimes legal and sometimes illegal. Injuries are part and parcel of the game, but he doesn’t shy away from that, and he continues to shine in a green and blue jersey.”

History repeating itself

Ireland’s Autumn series should be seen as nothing more as an exercise in keeping their momentum and good form going. It was this time four years ago that under Joe Schmidt the green jersey looked almost unbeatable.

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Romping home to a Six Nations grand slam in 2018, some 18 months later in Japan the team crashed out of the World Cup with a 46-14 loss to the All Blacks at the quarter-final stage. 

In every World Cup, Ireland have never ventured past the final eight and after the high of bettering the All Blacks in their own backyard, there is a sense that the Irish could have peaked too soon.

“The players who are still there from that team will have definitely learnt and there is a lot of new faces, there is a lot of young talent there,” Zebo said.

“I don’t think they’ll have that fear going into a World Cup of ‘I have to get past the quarter-final’ or this and that. That’s more of the narrative surrounding the team come World Cups.

“I think Ireland will literally be focussed on gaining more momentum, some more wins under their belt, having a really good Six Nations before the World Cup, and there is a lot of luck involved in winning these games at World Cups too.

“So fingers crossed that it goes well in the build-up and we keep our best team fit and healthy and get past that quarter-final stage, which I have no doubt we will.”

Simon Zebo will feature on Autumn Nations Series matches exclusive on Prime Video.


Ireland Fixtures