There was a defining moment in the Wales V Ireland 6 Nations game at the weekend. Not only in the game, but a defining moment in the evolution of the sport. There is a new breed of young, incredibly fit and strong and highly skillful rugby players emerging throughout the world. Simon Zebo is of this “new breed”. The skill he demonstrated, in flicking the ball to himself, while almost at full speed was incredible. It was also very lucky, but luck always plays an unquantifiable role in life.
There are plenty of “old-school” highly skilled rugby players. Brian O’Driscoll is the obvious choice. Geordan Murphy would be another. These guys possess incredible amounts of skill and can pull things off that most people cannot. Brian’s incredible ability to engage defenders and still give offloads is exceptional. It is one of his major qualities. His ability to “fix” a defender by staring at him in the eyes, and then giving a blind offload has set O’Driscoll apart for years. That is obviously not the limit of his skill which was clearly on display against Wales at the weekend. The fact that he can come back after months of injury and then put in a man of the match performance at international level, is simply hard to fathom.
To a certain extent, O’Driscoll has been a trail blazer. He has set the standards for any upcoming Irish rugby player. He has been an idol for many young players for over a decade. They have witnessed his skill and tried to replicate it in their games of touch rugby. Perhaps, now these young guys who grew up watching O’Driscoll, Jonny Wilkinson, Dan Carter et al, are coming to the fore. Their moment is nigh.
Ireland’s Simon Zebo is one of these “new breed” of athletes. Highly skilled, by virtue of playing multiple sports as a youngster and lightning fast to boot. His natural reaction to reach out with his leg and flick up the ball to himself shows that he believes he has the skill. The fact that he pulled it off and by doing so, set up a try for Loosehead Prop Cian Healy shows us all, that he does indeed possess sublime skill.
There have been many moments of brilliance throughout the 6 Nations but I believe that the skill exhibited by Zebo demonstrates that a new generation of rugby athletes are coming. The game is constantly evolving by those who participate in the sport.
One thing that goes hand in hand with skill, is confidence. You cannot even attempt to pull off skillful moves without repetition and confidence. O’Driscoll has always demonstrated confidence on the pitch, as does Johnny Sexton. Confidence is not lacking for Zebo either. But then again…..why should it be…..