Opinion: Simon Zebo’s return a welcome boost but questions on Munster Rugby recruitment raised

Last night, I received a text message from a friend who lives in Cork stating that he had it on good authority that Simon Zebo was poised to re-join Munster Rugby next season. Cue today, a one-year contract co-funded with the IRFU to bring the player back to the club. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the news.

Positive news for the province

Simon Zebo is coming back to Munster Rugby. The positivity of the news this afternoon is welcome given how Munster Rugby’s season has unraveled in recent weeks.

On the back of the losses to Leinster Rugby and Toulouse coupled with the retirement news of CJ Stander, Billy Holland, Tommy O’Donnell and JJ Hanrahan departure, the news is welcome.

A player with vast experience who should provide counsel and support to the young players in the squad next term.

An experienced player who the head coach and management staff will look to provide immediate leadership. His record is superb. Munster’s record try-scorer with 60 tries in his 144 appearances so far.

Ireland call?

The fact that Zebo is back in the Irish provincial system means that if he continues to play in the manner that he has done with Racing 92, he should be again a live contender for test match rugby with Ireland.

Hugo Keenan has consolidated his full back role this season, but it does not hurt to have a player of vast experience and creativity in the ranks if Keenan is unavailable. Good news for the Ireland team.

The question posed in recent weeks (post-mortem) was what is Munster Rugby’s identity? The homegrown player narrative is certainly satisfied on this news.

Zebo loves the province and the club. He will hit the ground running and break out more try scoring records before the end of next season.

Young back three prospects development potentially thwarted?

Where does this signing fit into the long-term recruitment policy at Munster Rugby? It is a question that must be asked given the news of this signing. The thoughts of several players within the current Munster Rugby squad would be interesting today.

Mike Haley will relish the full back role battle but I am thinking in terms of Shane Daly, Matt Gallagher, Calvin Nash and Liam Coombes who may lose game minutes next term as Simon Zebo will arrive and get game minutes from the off.

The mantra of trusting youth and giving youth a chance (seen this term) is at odds with this signing. When you consider there is versatility in the current squad to fill the full back role,

Zebo’s arrival appears quite short term focused. Several players will look to put the best foot forward next term and impress but if no game time is in the offing for the senior team, they will look for options outside the club.

JJ Hanrahan’s departure to ASM Clermont means one less player to cover the full back berth so perhaps is this the reason to bring back Zebo back to the club? The development of young back three prospects in the squad will be curtailed next season in game minutes so the arrival for me is mixed in summary.

Next focus is the pack?

Given how the pack has fared in recent crunch fixtures, more depth chart analysis and player identification is required by the province to make gains to even compete with the elite European teams as well as the South African sides next term.

Pack platform is again back in vogue so the Zebo news despite being positive is not going to change how the pack perform in key crunch fixtures and how as an unit they secure a platform for the side to get on the front foot to utilize a Simon Zebo hitting the line from full back. More personnel decisions will be required from Munster Rugby in the coming weeks on that score.

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