Racing 92-bound Simon Zebo is not giving up hope of being called up by Joe Schmidt for next month's Six Nations Championship, writes Simon Lewis.
The Munster wing, named to face the club he will join this summer when the Champions Cup Pool 4 rivals meet in Paris tomorrow, was omitted by head coach Schmidt from the Ireland squad for last November's Guinness Series.
That came a week after Zebo had announced his intention to leave his home province at the end of the current season.
Players choosing to move abroad have been left under no illusions by Schmidt that they are putting themselves at a disadvantage compared with Irish-based players in terms of selection for the national team, having taken themselves out of the IRFU player welfare programme.
Both Zebo, 27, and Schmidt have confirmed that a conversation along those lines took place when the Ireland boss called the player to explain his decision not to pick the Munster star in November.
Yet while that was described as “unfortunate” by Zebo, he has told French media that his current status as a contracted Munster player should mean he is not made a further example of.
“There were players in this situation before me and they continued to be called up for Ireland,” Zebo told French daily sports newspaper L'Equipe.
“I would not understand if there’s one rule for the others and another for me. I’m fully eligible because I’m a Munster player until June. I hope I’ll be called up for the Six Nations.”
Zebo used the interview to cite the precedent set by Schmidt when he selected Johnny Sexton for Ireland when the fly-half was playing Top14 rugby in France with Racing between 2013 and 2015.
“It’s true that Jonny was able to play for Ireland while he was playing in France. It would not really make sense if I became unable to be picked while I’m still playing with Munster.”
Yet the Corkman, whose father hails from the French Caribbean island of Martinique, has done his cause no favours with L'Equipe quoting Zebo saying he prefers playing with more freedom at Munster compared to a more structured style with Ireland under Schmidt.
“With Munster, I’m free to try things, to play the moves that I see. I don’t have any shackles. Joe is a super coach who has had great success with Ireland. We already talked about it face-to-face. I said to him that I couldn’t play in such a rigid structure. I can’t play like that.
“Winning is important but for me it’s also important to do it in a certain way,” although there is a qualification from Zebo, who added: “But if you ask me to pick between losing in style or winning ugly, I’d choose the second option.”
Zebo also explained his decision to choose Racing as his destination club.
“From the age of 19, I decided that I would play in France,” he said.
“I wanted to come to a team that were at least as ambitious as Munster. Racing want to dominate Europe and the French championship. I don’t want to just be happy to live in France. I want to win titles – to have an impact in a winning team.”