Simon Zebo: Munster need a big performance at Zebre
Ireland wing expects a tough battle in Parma as the Irish province look to get back to winning ways after Connacht defeat
Munster wing Simon Zebo insists the club must get back to winning ways when they face Italians Zebre on Saturday.
After 10 days off in December, the 24-year-old Ireland international returned for their shock 24-16 interpro defeat to Connacht in the Guinness PRO12 on New Year’s Day.
We go over there with a point to prove after a poor performance last weekend and nothing less than a win will be acceptable, but it won’t be easy
The PRO12’s top four clubs all suffered defeat in the first round in 2015, but Munster’s defeat was arguably the biggest surprise with Connacht winning just once in 41 previous meetings between the two provinces.
That loss came off the back of doing the double of rivals Leinster on St Stephen’s Day for the first time since 2009 with an impressive win at Thomond Park, their only victory in their last five fixtures in all competitions, but Anthony Foley’s side were far from their best despite the return of key Ireland trio Zebo, Paul O’Connell and Peter O’Mahony.
“We’ve a massive task ahead in the next few weeks and it all starts with Zebre this weekend,” Zebo said.
“They base their game around physicality and try to bully teams up front, making games scrappy and picking up wins.
“We’ll have to match them physically and hopefully then we can get a bit of ball out wide also.
“We go over there with a point to prove after a poor performance last weekend and nothing less than a win will be acceptable, but it won’t be easy.
“They’re a rugged side and they’ve been unlucky not to get more wins under their belt so we need to up it this weekend.”
Last season, Zebo scored four tries in 13 PRO12 appearances, a tally he has already equalled in seven appearances this campaign, but the 11-times capped international has not scored since he bagged a hat-trick in a 31-5 win over Zebre at Thomond Park on 19 September.
The Italians are notoriously difficult to beat at the Stadio XXV Aprile in Parma, having claimed shock wins over Ulster and Edinburgh already this season, as well as pushing the Ospreys, who edged the match with a 15-14 win.
Only reigning champions Leinster, Cardiff Blues and Italian rivals Benetton Treviso have left the Aprile with wins in the PRO12 this season, and Andrea Cavinato’s side are reeling from back-to-back defeats to Treviso over the holiday season.
We need to get some consistency, but first and foremost this weekend we need to put in a big performance, and fingers crossed it will be enough to get a win.
Munster have won on three of their last four visits to Italy, including a 43-21 win over Zebre in September 2013, but they needed a spirited second-half comeback to overturn Zebre’s 18-9 lead at the break to deny the Italians a maiden PRO12 victory.
Despite their scare on their last visit to Parma, the Munstermen have never lost to the Italians on their five previous meetings, securing a bonus-point win on four occasions.
But Zebo is fully aware that a win in Italy’s north west is by no means guaranteed, and they must win to get some momentum going into the last two pool matches in the European Champions Cup against Saracens and Sale Sharks.
“It’s going to be a massive game and we’ll be looking to build momentum over this block of games we’ve got coming up,” he added.
“We need to right a performance that certainly was below par last weekend.
“We need to get some consistency, but first and foremost this weekend we need to put in a big performance, and fingers crossed it will be enough to get a win.
“They’re not an easy side to go and visit. They’ve got their bruisers and a hostile atmosphere.
“As well as their victories over Ulster and Edinburgh, they’ve run lots of teams close down there.
“If you take them for granted, especially at home, you’ll leave the field with egg on your face so we’ll be going to put in a big performance.”