Monday 16 September 2019

Murray: Zebo's Irish exile will be 'big deal' for him

Scrum-half conflicted as his best mate departs

Conor Murray, here launching Vodafone Ireland’s rugby campaign ahead of the November series, admits it’s hard for the IRFU to compete with French clubs’ big offers. Photo: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Conor Murray, here launching Vodafone Ireland’s rugby campaign ahead of the November series, admits it’s hard for the IRFU to compete with French clubs’ big offers. Photo: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
David Kelly

David Kelly

When your best friend invites you into his trust and gives you the news you thought you'd never hear, the immediate reaction is a selfish one, rising from the gut.

Conor Murray admits this was his response when Simon Zebo pulled him aside at the weekend and revealed that he was leaving Munster, ending their eight-year professional relationship and, as now seems likely, terminating their days together in green too.

After the naturally self-centred reaction, then the brain kicks in. Surely, Murray prompts to his mate, this means the end of your international career?

Zebo concedes the point, confirmed by yesterday's squad announcement. Everyone has a choice; Zebo has made his, Ireland have reacted with theirs. Murray's may not be required. Yet.

Ireland's first million-euro player may not be far away; the Lions scrum-half would be one of the prime candidates worthy of such a sum in today's inflated market. For now, he remains torn between personal fidelity to a dear friend and professional duty towards those who pay his wages.

It's a difficult bind and one he clearly feels conflicted by; not for nothing does he express the widely-held opinion that he would like Zebo to continue to play for Ireland. But he also knows precisely just why such a view may be unsustainable in some quarters.

Indeed, as even the perennial world's best, New Zealand, have discovered, the lure of the William Webb Ellis often fails to compete with the allure of money in the bank.

"The IRFU can't compete with it," he says, alluding indirectly to the purported €700k salary which has lured Zebo and his family to France.

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"Definitely the way it is in France and England as well. A few New Zealand lads have taken time off to come to Europe and earn money.

"If that's what the players want then the IRFU can see their point of view. I don't see why it wouldn't happen.

"People talk about it all the time and now Simon has gone and done it. Does that mean more players are going to do it at different ages? It's all down to the player I think.


"It's not really down to the IRFU if someone wants to go and earn that extra bit of money then you are back to the risk of you losing your international place in the squad.

"That's a massive thing to consider losing so it's down to the player, the time in their career, what they want to do, what their family wants to do.

"It remains to be seen now that Zeebs has gone and done it as one of the younger guys to do it…we'll see, we'll see what happens. Definitely it's going to turn heads."

It turned his before and, when his next contract expires after the World Cup, will definitely do so again. At least then, he will have completed a World Cup cycle; even then, though, potentially dismissing his international career would throw him a huge wrench.

"It's a big decision, isn't it?" Murray responds to the million-dollar rhetorical question. "And a reality as well, because as someone said, it's a short career and you've got to look at that side of things too.

"But to be denied playing for your country is a big deal, so it's a massive carrot to hold up in front of you.

"It's a big decision, because playing over in the Aviva on international days is an incredible feeling. Being involved in the national set-up, the way you're looked after is class and it's a great squad to be a part of.

"I've a lot of good mates in that squad, we enjoy playing together, playing for your country together. It's a massively proud thing for your family going to the Aviva on big days out is something appealing too.

"I think I'll be 29 or 30 when the time for me to decide comes around, so you'd have to look at it and weigh everything up.

"I'm not always thinking about it. But you are definitely aware of the draw if you ever needed to go and do something like that.

"Those options are there and they are good things. The IRFU are competing against that and trying to keep players here.

"For me, playing here with Munster, I'm a Munster man and playing with Ireland is unbelievable and what we have here is great. People are very happy here.

"Being on tour with the Lions and speaking to lads from other countries, they describe our clubs as proper rugby clubs with the support we have.

"We do have it quite well here. That is in people's minds but you are definitely aware of what you can do abroad as well."

The growing sense of unease within the Irish camp at Zebo's exclusion - Murray joins Seán O'Brien and captain Rory Best in refusing to stand steadfastly on the IRFU's side of the fence - may also reflect dissatisfaction with World Rugby's lax residency rules, albeit they are soon due to be extended to five years.

"It is strange to look at it, definitely, but that's the way international rugby is. You've guys playing with England who are South African-born; we've the same, it's just the way it is.

"I don't know if it's right or wrong. I'm sure the guys who have moved abroad will be a little more annoyed.

"It'd affect them more, say Zeebs - and he doesn't get picked, but a 15 comes in, becomes a resident and plays for Ireland, that could be hard for Zeebs to take, watching and thinking, 'That could be my cap', but I can't get it now.

"I think it's just the way it is, it's a weird issue. Five years makes it a bit more wholesome, you earn it a bit more.

"Before if someone couldn't get near the All Blacks or whatever, they come over here and make an international career that way. If they can do it, fair play, I think the five-year thing is a good thing."

Ireland and Munster scrum-half Conor Murray today launched "Who We Are is How We Play", the next phase of Vodafone Ireland's "Team Of Us" sponsorship of the Irish rugby team

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