I see that Simon Zebo has served notice to the Munster Branch that he intends plying his rugby talent in France next year. The Munster Provence and supporters like me will miss the ‘Zebe’ but I reckon we all will wish him well in his move.
It did not occur to me immediately what the real fall-out from this might be but Joe Schmidt was quick to drop Simon from the International panel of players ahead of the autumn internationals. The rule about playing outside Ireland automatically leading to exclusion from the international squad is an unwritten rule, as we saw when Johnny Sexton moved to Paris but still retained the green number ten shirt while he was away.
Don’t get me wrong, I was delighted that Sexton was still allowed to play for Ireland after his departure to France but I am wondering why the same courtesy is not extended to Zebo? Why is twinkle-toes-Simon unceremoniously dropped as soon as he opens his mouth. According to Ronan O’Gara, the proposed move to Paris is far from settled for him, yet Schmidt was damned quick off the mark. Perhaps it is the joker label that Simon and Connor Murray share, both at Munster and Ireland. These two likely lads enjoy pulling pranks and there are even dark suggestions of a three-in-a-bed romp with some lucky, or unlucky woman on a tour a while back. None of that would endear them to the uber-correct Schmidt. He is one serious and driven man.
It is ironic though that with the omission of Zebo another lad gets his chance. Bundee Aki is of South Seas descent and was raised in New Zealand. He qualifies for Ireland under the three-year residency rule and may line out in the centre for the autumn games. Zebo has Caribbean and French blood but was born and reared in Cork, played hurling for Blackrock before opting for rugby. He came up through the Munster stable and is 100% Paddy. Yet he is dropped while Bundee Aki is in. That doesn’t sit right somehow.
But it poses a far more interesting question for Schmidt. Rory Best is not only the Irish hooker but the Irish captain as well. He would be welcomed in any UK team if the money attracted him. But Rory is from Ulster, he’s a Loyalist and a Unionist and a British Passport holder. To all intents and purposes, Rory is Irish-British, or British-Irish if you like. What would Schmidt do if Rory announced he was signing for Saracens for example? There is a Belfast/London shuttle if Rory didn’t want a permanent move but would Schmidt pick him to play for Ireland again? Zebo is an Irish lad going to France but in the case of Rory, he would be a British lad going to Britain.
I understand the reasons behind the Zebo exclusion but I’m not sure I agree with them. I would pick the Irish team on the basis of ability, not where a bloke is earning his dough. It’s a short career at the top for these guys and they pay a heavy price in terms of the dedication required to succeed at it. To be picked for one’s country is the ultimate accolade for any sportsperson, the competition for places is keen and only the best of them earn the privilege. Zebo is one of them and I salute him for it.
Perhaps Schmidt will reconsider if the outcome of the autumn series bodes badly for the Six Nations. We’ll see!