Zebo frustrated by Ireland’s inability to exploit space out wide

PLAYING ON THE wing for Ireland has been a frustrating experience in this Six Nations.

There has certainly been a continuation of Ireland’s attempts to play with more width and the ball has found itself out near the touchlines during Irish possession, but the execution in getting it there has been lacking at crucial times.

Zebo has started every Ireland game in this Six Nations. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

There were several examples again last weekend in Cardiff when Ireland had space on the edge but either didn’t identify it or failed to deliver the ball to the space with the required passing quality and fixing of defenders.

“At times, it’s not getting there,” says Simon Zebo, a fixture on Ireland’s left wing so far in this Six Nations. “We are aware of that on the pitch and we let the boys inside us know. If there is breakdown in communication and people are getting in the way of passes that need to go, we let the people know.

“We’re trying to get it there, trying to find all space, you know, is the backfield open or at the frontline if they are trying to wedge off onto outside backs, then the front doors are going to be open.

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“It’s about finding the space at the right time. When it’s on to go wide, sometimes it just hasn’t gotten there.”

Not that Zebo is insisting Ireland need to play to width every time they have their hands on the ball. The Munster man is simply hopeful that against England on Saturday, Joe Schmidt’s side can exploit more of the opportunities the defence provide.

“It is frustrating that we’re not getting the results, that is the thing,” says Zebo. “If the ball doesn’t come out to the wing for the whole game and we win, it doesn’t matter.

“But if there are spaces out there and we’re leaving tries behind, then it’s frustrating. Hopefully, we can see the space and exploit it sooner and be more clinical.

“Whether that is out wide or in around the fringes, that’s what we have to do. We need to be more clinical in our attack and we’ll be on the verge of a very good performance.”

Zebo looks to beat Ken Owens and George North last weekend. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

This week has seen renewed calls for Ireland to operate with a clear second playmaker in attack, someone other than Johnny Sexton who can channel the attacking side of their game.

England have had success with George Ford and Owen Farrell creating in tandem, and Zebo seems like the obvious man to fill that second berth with Ireland.

Indeed, he has flitted into a creative role several times for Ireland in recent seasons, providing intelligent passes and kicks to set up team-mates for scores or linebreaks, but he says it is more difficult to do from the wing than it is at fullback.

“It is hard because, as a winger, I am supposed to keep width as well,” says Zebo. “It is harder for me to come off my wing and go in and playmake because you have to be in there for a few phases and you have to get someone else with a different role to go out onto the wing.

“It’s tough. But, I have the licence to do it when the chances are there. It is just harder to go there from the wing.”

The hope is that Zebo can find more of those opportunities to head infield on Saturday, or more opportunities to get up to full speed and run into space if he is to remain waiting in the wings.

Whatever way it happens, Ireland must find a way to unlock the English defence after their failure to score a try against Wales was deeply damaging.

England arrive in Dublin in merry form, with Eddie Jones having stressed their confidence as they look for their 19th consecutive Test win under their Australian head coach.

Zebo in aerial competition with Leigh Halfpenny. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Jones has had another jab at Ireland too, reverting to his already well-worn suggestion that Schmidt’s men are heavily reliant on a kicking game.

“I try not to listen to him too much, but from what I’ve seen of Eddie Jones he’s obviously not afraid to speak his mind,” says Zebo with a laugh.

“He’s new in with England and a fresh voice, a fresh atmosphere and they’re obviously feeding off of him at the moment. He seems to be doing a good job.

“Definitely, I wouldn’t pay too much attention to those comments or whatever he says. All coaches seem to say specific things at specific times, whether it’s mind games or whatever it is, but as players we just focus on the 15 players who are going to be lining out against us.”

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