Munster relief as Zebo signs two-year contract with province
Versatile back had apparently been offered lucrative deal by French Top 14 club Pau
Not only does Simon Zebo “put bums on seats”, as Conor Murray said last week, but he sells shirts, as well as scores tries. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Munster were particularly concerned over prolonged negotiations on new deals for Conor Murray, Keith Earls, Simon Zebo, and even, reportedly, James Cronin, but confirmation of Zebo’s retention yesterday has made for a pretty good last week or so for the slightly beleaguered province.
Murray has always expressed a preference to remain with his native province, but Earls, Cronin and Zebo had all been linked with moves to top English and French clubs.
Earls, and Zebo especially, are not only indigenous products of their schools, club and academy, but are their prime finishers. Zebo is probably the most marketable and popular figure with young supporters.
Not only does Zebo “put bums on seats”, as Murray said last week, but he sells shirts, as well as scores tries. The difference with Earls and Murray is they signed new three-year international contracts with the IRFU, whereas Zebo agreed a two-year provincial contract, dealing directly with Munster.
Following the exit of JJ Hanrahan last season to Northampton, to have lost the 25-year-old as he enters the peak of his career would have been demoralising. His retention represents good business by Munster, as well as a significant relief.
The first of Zebo’s 96 Munster appearances came as a sub-academy player against Connacht at the Sportsgrounds in April 2010. After one year in the full academy programme, he secured a senior contract at the beginning of the 2011/2012 season and made his European debut against Scarlets at Parc Y Scarlets in December 2011.
A month later he announced himself on the European stage with a hat-trick of tries away to Northampton Saints, as Munster booked a place in the 2012 Heineken Cup quarter-finals.
Since then, Zebo has become the province’s leading try scorer for the past four seasons, their record league try scorer and the joint all-time try scorer, with his most recent try against Stade Francais at Thomond Park equalling Anthony Horgan’s record of 41 tries.
“Simon’s record speaks for itself and keeping a player with his experience and versatility is key to our plans,” said Munster coach Anthony Foley. “We are delighted that he has committed his future to Munster. It’s great to have even more good news on the contract front.”
Zebo has also scored seven tries in his 21 Irish
Tests and was a late call-up with the British and Irish Lions in Australia in 2013. He made his Ireland debut against New Zealand in Eden Park in June 2012, and last season started all but the title-clinching game away to Scotland in Ireland’s successful defence of their Six Nations title, as well as making three appearances at the Rugby World Cup.
Had he moved to France, Zebo’s Test career would most likely have suffered, whereas his retention by Munster will be welcomed by Schmidt, who has striven to make him a more rounded player.
“There’s always concern when we lose the opportunity to manage that player [who moves overseas]. We get the training volume from the provinces, we know their strength and conditioning programmes, their total training minutes,” Schmidt said last week