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Sunday 19 November 2017

Zebo zeroes in on racing and o'gara

IRFU can't compete with French club

Simon Zebo (r) and Conor Murray share a joke after the clash against Racing 92. Pic: racingpost.com
Simon Zebo (r) and Conor Murray share a joke after the clash against Racing 92. Pic: racingpost.com

Munster and Ireland have lost out to Ronan O'Gara's Racing 92 in a 'tug o'war' for the love of Simon Zebo.

The 'Great Entertainer' of Irish rugby will take his leave of home at the end of the season.

It is one of the strange twists of these announcements that Zebo has to play out the next seven months with everyone knowing he is ditching his first love.

He will leave with a heavy heart for the Paris club, but it will be offset by what will be an attractive contract from the French giants.

For all the razzmatazz of his unique skills set, there have been moments outside the rectangle pitch which reveal the truly playful kid inside the man.

Impressing

Cut to 2013. Ireland's Conor Murray is impressing on the British & Lions tour to Australia, making a charge for the Test team.

The Lions are 1-0 up in the series and the midweek 'dirt trekkers' are 14-0 ahead of the Melbourne Rebels when Murray approaches a ruck near the end of the first half.

There is a word in his ear. The scrum-half slams the ball into touch and begins the trot towards the tunnel to the dressing-room.

Not so fast friend. Referee Glen Jackson allows time for the lineout.

It looked like a rookie error, one that wouldn't have impressed coach Warren Gatland.

All was not as it seemed. A prankster had struck.

Murray takes up the story.

"I couldn't see (the clock). He (Zebo) told me to kick the ball out, it was half-time.

"There was 30 seconds left. I kicked it out. He turned around to me and he was giggling."

It took the wing wizard time to win over the trust of Ireland coach Joe Schmidt in what is a super-serious, intense environment out in Carton House.

The Irishman of French heritage - his father Arthur is from the colonial island of Martinique and almost represented France at the 1976 Olympics - speaks the language fluently and has relations in Paris.

The very nature of his free-spirit always made him more likely than not to pursue his career there at some stage.

Sadly, the time has come a lot sooner than anyone would have wanted.

"This club (Munster) has moulded me into the player and person I am and I will forever be grateful for that," issued Zebo in a statement.

"It has always been my dream to play for my home club, wearing the red jersey while representing my family, friends and local community.

"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," he explained.

"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."

In an official statement, Munster were able to confirm that the mercurial 27-year-old "has attracted the interest of several European clubs who have offered terms that Munster and the IRFU are unable to match despite both the province and the Union making every effort to retain the player with substantial improvements made to his existing deal."

This is a body blow to Munster and their plans on moving forward with new head coach Johann van Graan.

It is open to debate as to how much of an influence Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus's decision to leave had on him.

It is more likely Zebo wanted to be set free, in a sense, to return to his second home.

It's there he can achieve financial security and freedom to express himself as one of rugby's great entertainers.

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