Racing 92 make Simon Zebo an offer he couldn’t refuse

Munster star’s World Cup prospects in doubt as Paris club offers salary of up to €700,000

Simon Zebo said his decision to move to Racing 92 is what’s best for him and his family. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Simon Zebo said his decision to move to Racing 92 is what’s best for him and his family. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

Simon Zebo is set to pitch up with his former team-mates Ronan O’Gara and Donnacha Ryan at Racing 92 next season after notifying Munster and the IRFU of his decision to turn down a new contract and move abroad.

As reported in The Irish Times last week, Racing had replaced Pau as Zebo’s main suitors, with upwardly mobile Lyon also interested, and the 27-year-old Munster and Ireland winger-cum-fullback has apparently signed a pre-contract with the Parisian club.

The news comes as a major blow to Munster, who had been helped by the IRFU and private backing in offering Zebo a much-improved offer to remain but this has clearly been dwarfed by the financial package which Racing, who only entered the race to sign him quite recently, have put on the table.

It is understood that the substantially increased offer from Munster was in the region of €350,000 and along with match fees and bonuses with Ireland, this could have risen to about €400,000.

The Irish Times has learned that the offer from Racing is in the region of €650,000 to €700,000, and quite probably with accommodation and a car.

Difficult decision

Even so, it must have been a difficult decision for Zebo, for he has in effect also ruled himself out of international consideration from next season onwards, and in the process sacrificed his place at the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

Technically, he will still be under consideration this season but with the World Cup in mind, Joe Schmidt and the Irish coaches will have to weigh up their planning for Japan with their immediate needs when deciding their squad of 35 to 37 players for next month’s Guinness Series against South Africa, Fiji and Argentina. The squad will probably be announced on Thursday.

The Six Nations is a standalone tournament but beyond that it is hard to see Zebo figuring in the three-Test tour to Australia next summer and for as long as he remains abroad.

Munster chief executive Garrett Fitzgerald said: “Working closely with the IRFU we put ourselves in the best position possible with an excellent offer, and while we are largely successful in retaining our best players within the Irish system, we know it is out of our hands on this occasion.

“We are hugely disappointed to see Simon leave but we wish to thank him for his immense contribution to the province and wish him and his family all the best for the future.”

Zebo himself was quoted as saying: “This club has moulded me into the player and person I am today and I will forever be grateful for that. It has always been my dream to play for my home club, wearing the red jersey while representing my family, friends and local community.

‘Right time to move’

“However, I have always noted the draw to play abroad one day, and in not taking this decision lightly I have decided on what’s best for my family. With my partner Elvira and two young children, Jacob and Sofia, we are planning for our future and this is the right time for us to make the move.”

Zebo admitted he would “miss everything about this place – the players, staff, supporters and friends for life” but vowed: “I will continue to enjoy wearing my jersey with pride and will give my all in making sure Munster are successful this season.”

Born and reared in Cork, Zebo came through PBC and Cork Con while advancing through the underage representative sides and moving from the academy on to senior ranks. He has played on 124 occasions, making his debut against Connacht at the Sportsground in April 2010, and is Munster’s record try scorer with 55 tries. Zebo has played for Ireland on 35 occasions, scoring nine tries.

On something of a bad news day from Munster’s High Performance Centre in the University of Limerick, it was confirmed that hooker Niall Scannell will miss all of Ireland’s November internationals and is a major doubt for Munster’s European Champions Cup back-to-back matches with Leicester in December after surgery on a hand injury.

Scannell sat out Munster’s win over Racing 92 last weekend due to the thumb injury picked up against Castres and could be out for two months.

Opportunities

“It’s a shame, I think he would have been really in the mix. I think he would have made the [Ireland] squad. It’s sad for him,” said Munster director of rugby Rassie Erasmus.

“But look, he is really young so he will get a lot of opportunities. It is always bad with those things but it could have been a knee, it could have been an ankle. He can keep training and stay fit so it’s not one of the worst injuries you can have.”

The departing Erasmus also ventured that the province’s new head coach Johann van Graan should be in place by the time they play Zebre on November 26th and does not think van Graan will be involved with the Springboks in the November Tests, the first of which is against Ireland.

“Look I don’t know the exact date, but if you want to think logically about this. We have got two games now and then a three-week break. If one is honest and open about it, it should be the Zebre game [November 26th]. He should be in charge if the paperwork and stuff doesn’t go wrong. I think that’s more or less what we will do.”

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