Simon Zebo's second coming was long awaited, but so far we've only seen glimpses of magic from Munster's record tryscorer.

But that's not to say Zebo himself has disappointed.

Like many in the four provinces, Covid-19 has meant his season has been stop-start, stuttering along and denying him momentum.

He hasn't played consecutive games since the opening two weeks of the season, with a recipe of Covid, squad rotation and his red card against Ulster meaning he's played just six games across the campaign.

When he has played, he's played some of the classic hits. His two tries on his return to Thomond Park in September reminded Munster fans of the good old days, while his brace against Wasps in the Champions Cup last month helped release the pressure valve after a difficult period both on and off the pitch.

Overall, it's been a chaotic first season back, but one he's clearly enjoyed, having extended his initial one-year contract by a further two years last month, meaning he'll be hanging around Limerick until 2024 at the very least.

"It's great for myself and my family, we're all really happy," he says of his contract extension.

"This is my home club and the club I grew up wanting to play for. Having the opportunity to come back from Racing and re-join, I’m very grateful for that.

"To get to extend my stay is great and I’ll keep doing what I’m doing and try to put my best foot forward and see where the chips fall. And hopefully win some trophies."

He's made no secret of the fact that getting back into an Ireland jersey was one of his main reasons for coming home, after three years in Paris with Racing 92.

The 31-year-old was recalled by Ireland head coach Andy Farrell in November, but couldn't break into the matchday squad for the games against Japan, New Zealand and Argentina.

And when Farrell's 37-man squad was named for the Six Nations in January, Zebo had slipped off the list.

But he seems at ease when asked about missing out on selection, pointing out he'd played just 14 minutes of rugby since the previous international break.

"I've no complaints over that," he says.

"I hadn’t played any rugby so obviously going into November, I didn’t play. It was mostly about getting up to speed and then trying to kick forward towards the Six Nations.

"But I didn’t play any rugby so I’ve no complaints. There have been boys in my province and other provinces going well so they’re rightly rewarded.

"For me personally, it’s about trying to get a run of games and get a nice rhythm heading into the back end of the season.

"I feel fresh, I haven’t played a lot of rugby for one reason or another. Hopefully now we can get some consistency and rhythm and attack the end of the season and try to win some silverware," he added.

"It's hard enough when it's stop-start now I've the opportunity to get some games back to back and just play as best I can for Munster and whatever happens after that, whether it be a last game or two of the Six Nations or try and get in for the summer tour, whatever, the Irish focus has to be on a bit of a backburner at the moment."

While he's eager to add to his 35 Irish caps, the last of which came in 2017, Zebo isn't too concerned about breaking into the squad before the end of the Six Nations.

Munster's rearranged schedule means they're in URC and Heineken Cup action on nine of the next 10 weekends, starting with this Friday's visit of Edinburgh to Thomond Park, which should give him plenty of chances to impress before the summer tour of New Zealand.

"I wouldn't be thinking about that at all," he said of a return to the Irish squad later in the Six Nations.

"I'm just solely focused on trying to build up my minutes here in Munster and keep performing as best I can for the lads here, and training as best I can and try and get some rhythm.

"It's hard enough when it's stop-start now I've the opportunity to get some games back to back and just play as best I can for Munster and whatever happens after that, whether it be a last game or two of the Six Nations or try and get in for the summer tour, whatever, the Irish focus has to be on a bit of a backburner at the moment.

"It's solely Munster and trying to get some important momentum leading into the important games we have coming up."

Throughout his whole career, his infectious personality - both on and off the pitch - has been highlighted as a strength by team-mates and coaches, and it's something his outgoing senior coach Stephen Larkham has been taken in by, even in the short time they've worked together.

So much so, the Australian readily admits that Zebo is one of his "favourites".

"He has been tremendous in our environment, I don't want to talk him up too much, he's already got a big head," joked Larkham.

"But he's good. What he adds around the place, he's always got energy and he sees the game well.

"He's always got energy around the place in terms of having a bit of fun but also he's got energy in terms of the strategies and tactics we're using week to week.

"He's balanced, he's skilful, he sees things that other guys don't see and he's fast.

"I guess he's one of my favourites, he'll hate me for saying that! I think he has been tremendous since he's come back."

The Munster team Zebo returned to is far different to the one he left.

In his three years away, veteran leaders like Billy Holland, Tommy O'Donnell and CJ Stander have retired, while a young generation of players like Fineen Wycherley, Craig Casey, Ben Healy and Gavin Coombes have begun to backbone the team.

And while Zebo is now one of the older crew at 31, he doesn't feel his role in the dressingroom has changed in the three years he was away.

"I try to pass on as much experience to the younger lads as possible and how I see the game and different things.

"So no, I wouldn't see it as a huge role change, but there are obviously a few extra young players around the squad now to lend a hand to.

"It's great, they're all mad keen to learn and very promising young players, so the more help the better and there's plenty of us there, there's Andrew, there's Earlsy, there's plenty of lads there with experience.

"So we're all rowing in the same direction, helping each other out, getting better every day.

"So my role would be quite similar to what it was before I left.

"Certain things you take on board or learn or take extra from other players, I would have taken a few pieces or a bit of knowledge from other players at Racing, and seen how they see the game in certain areas or potentially off like scrums and off different attack options, how they might see a few different pictures.

"But as a whole I'd be quite similar, just a little bit more experienced I suppose."

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