MUNSTER coach Rob Penney paid Simon Zebo the ultimate compliment, offering the opinion that the 22-year-old winger would not be out of place playing in Penney's native New Zealand.
It was announced yesterday that Zebo has signed a three-year contract with Munster, taking him up to the end of the 2015-'16 season.
His deal is reward for what has been a magnificent rise to prominence for a player who only made his Heineken Cup debut last season. Zebo's deal is one of nine contract extensions announced by Munster yesterday.
As well as Zebo, Munster have also secured the services on two-year deals of James Coughlan, Sean Dougall and Paddy Butler, lock Dave Foley and hooker Mike Sherry, while Dave O'Callaghan, JJ Hanrahan and Luke O'Dea are upgraded from development contracts to full professional arrangements, also on two-year deals.
It is Zebo's that is hugely exciting for Penney and the Munster set-up, though. "I think he would do well in New Zealand, he would be someone you could put into an environment over there and he would succeed," enthused the coach.
"Without blowing too much smoke, he is a genuine rugby talent, and I think we've all seen that he is an excitement machine.
"People told me two years ago when he was playing B&I Cup or All-Ireland League that he was a talent that just needed to be reined and harnessed and, obviously, he's come a long way.
"He is a young man who's made massive shifts in a short period of time and he's going to continue to grow and be an exciting footballer for Ireland and Munster. It is great to see a guy with his talent able to express himself and play so well."
Penney is beginning to put his own stamp on a playing roster he inherited when taking over from Tony McGahan and it is instructive that the players tied up to new contracts are all athletically built and can execute the expansive game the Kiwi is implementing.
"A lot of them are good athletic individuals, they are good intelligent rugby players. I am rapt with the guys that have signed.
"There are still one or two to go but these signings today are the core of the future of the group. I think hopefully those lads can get through relatively unscathed in the next 10 years and be great names for Munster."
Penney has predicted that Zebo, in particular, can be a leading player for Munster for the next decade, so limitless is his potential.
"For Simon, what we've hopefully done is give him a framework where he can use his best attributes to the full. The try he scored the other day was just indicative of the potential that that guy has got.
"We have signed him for three years and hopefully he can be here for 10."
Negotiations are continuing with other players, including Damien Varley, Stephen Archer, Ian Keatley and Felix Jones, while Peter O'Mahony and Ronan O'Gara will negotiate directly with the IRFU.