Sunday 17 December 2017

Simon Zebo: Money in rugby is catching up with soccer day by day

Zebo pictured wearing the new Munster home kit
Zebo pictured wearing the new Munster home kit
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Simon Zebo smirks as he's 'informed' of Joe Schmidt's contract extension.

"He mentioned it to us earlier," he grins.

Keeping hold of a coach who is widely regarded as one of the best in the world (albeit just for one additional year) is significant for Irish rugby but for Zebo, his primary objective right now is to play his way back into the Kiwi's plans.

Having started nine consecutive Ireland games, Zebo was dropped for the crucial, final Six Nations game against Scotland and with the competition for places on the wing fiercer now than it has ever been, he knows the scale of the task on his hands to get back in.

"It was probably my first season when I had been able to play throughout the whole season without either breaking both my feet or coming up with injury," Zebo explains.

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"As he (Schmidt) said, I was showing a little bit of wear and tear. I can understand that. I wouldn't have been as sharp in the Wales game as I would have liked to be. I was probably a bit tired towards the end of the season which was disappointing but normal enough.

Munster's Simon Zebo is tackled by Jeff Hassler of Ospreys
Munster's Simon Zebo is tackled by Jeff Hassler of Ospreys

"I feel really fresh now, excited and hopefully my best rugby will come out."

Competing with other versatile wingers like Keith Earls, Luke Fitzgerald and Fergus McFadden makes Zebo's task to make the 31-man squad more difficult but he is quick to remind everyone of his own ability to play across the back three.

The return of Andrew Trimble from injury, a player who thrived under Schmidt's game plan last year, is another stark reminder of Ireland's strength in depth but Zebo has never been someone who is short on confidence.

"I think they (coaching staff) know I can do a job at full-back at this stage, I don't need to plead my case," the 25-year old admits.

"I've played internationally at full-back, I've played full-back for Munster. I probably prefer playing full-back, I get more of the ball.

"I played there in the Champions Cup against Sale and got man of the match. I love playing there. When I get my hands on the ball that's when I'm at my best.

"I think the coaching staff know the attributes and pros and cons of each player so it's just going to be about playing the best you can in the warm-up games and doing as best you can.

"Obviously there is going to be class international standard players who are not going to travel. That's just the way it is, that's sport," he adds.

Zebo's focus will remain on making the World Cup squad but lingering in the back of his mind is the fact that he will soon begin contract negotiations.

His current contract has one more year to run and having watched Paul O'Connell recently seal a move to Toulon, Zebo will never rule out doing something similar. "I think it's down to the individual. It would be way less of a deal (if he moved to France)," he maintains.

"I have a lot of family over there. I speak French but that is something that I would have to think about come contract time, which is actually quite soon.

"These days, players would be not as reluctant to leave as they once were. It's down to the individual and what they want to achieve and whether being at home in Ireland is enough for them or not. The time will come for every player to make that decision and you just have to make sure it's the right one."

The financial value of being lured to France is common knowledge nowadays and, as Zebo rightly points out, the wages on offer are continuing to increase.

However, he is still yet to win any silverware with Munster and that remains one of his major goals.

"It's catching up with football day by day. These players earning massive contracts in France, getting €30, €40, €50,000 a month. That's soccer money," Zebo says. "It's definitely going that way. There is more and more money coming into the game. It's great.

"We don't have the luxury of being in this business and earning this money for 30, 40 years.

"It's massively important but it is extra hard to leave a club like Munster which, I think, is different to every other club because that loyalty, passion and what you get back from the fans is different to any other club I've played with or been to.

"If you do decide to leave, you don't just decide to leave and pick up a pay cheque. I'm sure Paul wants to be successful and wants to add to the massive trophy cabinet that he already has.

"It would be the same in my boat, I wouldn't move to a second tier side. You'd be ambitious enough that if that decision was made, you'd go out with the idea of winning things.

"It would be doubly as hard (to leave Munster) but at the end of the day, you have to look after yourself and your family."

Irish Independent

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