Rory Best believes Ireland’s meticulous player management should stop many more top stars following Simon Zebo’s lead in moving to France for next season.
Munster wing Zebo’s Test career has stalled on 35 caps after his decision to join Racing 92 next term, with Ireland opting not to select overseas-based stars.Best insists his 12-year, 104-cap Test career could already have been over without careful management from Irish rugby bosses.
The Ireland and Ulster hooker respects Zebo’s move abroad, but highlighted again the fruit of the Irish Rugby Football Union’s (IRFU) ability to impose playing limits at provincial level, to prolong Test careers.
"He had to do what he felt was right for his family," said Best, of Zebo’s decision to sign a lucrative deal to join Paris club Racing for next season.
"It’s disappointing he’s chosen to move on, but he obviously feels that’s best for the development of him and his family.
"When someone makes that decision so early you have to respect it, as disappointing as it is from an Irish and Munster point of view.
"For me staying in Ireland is always the best option.
"The IRFU conduct themselves very well in contract negotiations.
"The way we get looked after, there aren’t many other countries that have guys well into their 30s still playing international rugby.
"A lot of that is down to that period between 23 and 30 and how well you’re looked after then.
"That player management comes under a bit of stick from time to time when it doesn’t suit provinces or various people. But it has long-term effects on your career.
"If I’d been asked to go somewhere in the middle section of my career and to churn out 35, 36 games of potentially 80 minutes every season, I have no doubt that my career would be shortened because of it."
Best will captain Ireland in the three-Test November series against South Africa, Fiji and Argentina, having shaken off a hamstring problem that dogged his start to the campaign.
Ireland were dealt a severe blow in their bid to host Rugby World Cup 2023 when World Rugby announced South Africa as the preferred hosts on Tuesday.
Ulster front-rower Best backed Ireland’s bid team to keep fighting, with the final vote to be staged on November 15.
Best also suggested Ireland should consider bidding for future World Cups if their work this time does not come to fruition.
"It’s very disappointing at the minute," said Best, of South Africa nudging ahead in the race to host the 2023 tournament.
"Nothing is completely over yet, and knowing the bid team they will rally now and give it their best shot to try to overturn that.
"If the Irish people don’t get the opportunity to watch rugby on their doorstep in a World Cup you’d hope there’s still that push-on to keep that infrastructure, and possibly a bid further down the line for it."