Simon Zebo’s top five moments for Munster, Ireland, Racing and the Lions

From thrilling tries to outrageous footwork and a prank call to his Munster boss, the Cork man did everything with a smile

Farewell Simon Zebo. Few had his capacity to entertain. In a career which spanned two stints with Munster, a handful of years in Paris, Ireland caps and a tour as a replacement player with the Lions in 2013, the Cork man was a favourite of many both on and off the pitch. In a career full of highlights, picking just five is a thankless task. Regardless, we’ve had a go.

2012: Hat-trick vs Northampton

In his first season playing European rugby, Zebo’s welcome to the big time moment came on a January Saturday evening in Milton Keynes. His second-half hat-trick turned what was a tight Heineken Cup affair into – at the time – Northampton’s worst defeat in Europe (36-51). The first try came via a sumptuous Denis Hurley offload, the second a piece of defensive brilliance with an intercept, while the third was the final nail in the coffin for a tired Saints defence, Zebo cutting inside on a hard line to score again.

2013: The flick

Arguably everyone’s first thought when Zebo’s name is mentioned. In his first Six Nations outing, Zebo had an ideal start when scoring in the corner thanks to a beautiful Brian O’Driscoll pass that took out multiple defenders. However, that was bettered moments later by Zebo’s footwork which preserved a try-scoring opportunity, ultimately finished by Cian Healy. Jamie Heaslip’s pass to his team-mate was slightly behind the mark. Running at full pace, Zebo reacted instinctively, keeping the ball alive with the back of his heel, cushioning it perfectly into his path to regather and keep the play moving. In the clip, referee Romain Poite waved his arms in the air to signal play on, but he may as well have been mirroring the feeling of everyone watching.

It wasn’t the only moment of magic Zebo conjured with his boot in his career. Arguably the best, a direct try assist, came in the 2017 Pro12 quarter-final victory over Edinburgh at Thomond Park. After spilling a loose ball, Zebo recovered in magnificent fashion, chipping over the defence and then regathering the ball only to throw a beautiful wide pass just before being tackled to send Keith Earls over in the corner.

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2013: The Prankster

Definitely Zebo’s most famous off-field moment. After earning a late call-up to the 2013 Lions tour, Zebo was a victim of a team fines meeting. The charge? Pranking Conor Murray into kicking the ball off the field, thinking it was half-time, when seconds remained on the clock. In a Lions match, no less. Zebo had to roll a dice to determine his punishment. Based on the squad’s reaction, he landed on the worst option: calling his club coach, in this case Munster’s Rob Penney, to explain why he should be named captain. What followed quickly became Lions lore in the long history of off-field tour footage.

Simon Zebo's Call in 2013

Simon Zebo's phone call from a Fines Meeting on the 2013 #LionsRugby Tour will forever be one of the greatest calls of all time You can watch Lions Raw, our 2013 documentary on Sky Sports Arena on Tuesday at 10pm 📺

Posted by Official Lions Rugby on Monday 1 February 2021
2016: Chicago fire

It wasn’t the prettiest international try of Zebo’s career. Arguably the aforementioned one against Wales, or his finish off a cross-kick in 2014 against Australia were both more aesthetically pleasing. Yet few scores were more important than Zebo’s easy run into the corner against New Zealand in 2016. Given the context of what followed, an inevitable All Blacks comeback, Zebo’s try added some much-needed daylight between the two teams. It wasn’t Robbie Henshaw’s effort which clinched a famous win at Soldier Field, but to score in that first ever victory over the men in black represents a significant high for Zebo. His high catch over the head of Aaron Cruden was also a crucial moment later in the game as Ireland looked to preserve their lead.

2020: Zebo at the double

Easily forgotten given it came in defeat, but Zebo’s double in the 2020 Champions Cup final against Exeter was undoubtedly one of the individual high points of his Racing career. The first effort came as Zebo and Finn Russell showed their attacking cohesion, the Scot throwing a beautiful wide ball which caught the Irishman in stride on a beautiful outside line. The second was more of an individual effort, Zebo forcing his way through three Exeter would-be tacklers to score. Albeit in defeat, Zebo became just the third Irish player to score twice in a Champions Cup final after Johnny Sexton (2011) and Dan Sheehan (2023).

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