Anthony Foley keen to fend off Simon Zebo suitors

Munster boss Anthony Foley insists the province are determined to hang onto Ireland wing Simon Zebo and is hopeful a new deal can be reached in the coming weeks to head off Toulon interest.

Anthony Foley keen to fend off Simon Zebo suitors

The French Top 14 giants have reportedly renewed their long-standing admiration for Zebo, who is out of contract with Munster at the end of this season. The 25-year-old has said he would like to play in France at some stage but head coach Foley is intent on making sure that does not happen this summer as talks begin with IRFU performance director David Nucifora to keep him in Ireland at his native province.

“We have been in discussion with David Nucifora from before the end of last season so we are fully aware of what’s going on,” Foley said yesterday as he attended the launch in London of the new Champions Cup season, which begins next week.

“Obviously there is stuff going on in the background in terms of negotiating contracts, conversations with agents; all that will come out in the next few months hopefully. We’re about holding onto our best players, they’ve come through (our system) and we want them to play with Munster as long as they can.

Foley said that while Nucifora was conducting talks the Munster administration was also heavily involved and he was hopeful the right conclusion would be reached.

“Garrett (Fitzgerald, Munster CEO), (team manager) Niall O’Donovan, the coaches we are all included in the conversations, making sure we are all pushing in the same direction. Everybody wants the same thing for Irish rugby, not just in Munster but across all provinces. We all want the best Irish players to be playing in Ireland..

“If clubs like Toulouse are lining up Simon Zebo then Simon Zebo is a good player. It’s a lot of credit to Munster for creating a player like that. It also shows the level we are at and we want to keep him because we want to win trophies. Simon would be a player we want to keep and hopefully that is achieved.

“If not we will cross that bridge when we come to it but hopefully we won’t have to cross the bridge. It goes on in every province, in every club, part and parcel of our daily lives to be honest.”

Zebo impressed at full-back for Ireland during the early stages of Ireland’s successful Pool D campaign but was left out of matchday squads for the games against France and the quarter-final with Argentina as Joe Schmidt reinstated Rob Kearney in the 15 jersey. Foley was asked if he would liked to have seen more of Zebo in action at the World Cup.

“Me as an Irish fan or me as the Munster head coach?” Foley replied. “I ended up watching a lot of those games from behind the couch. I was quite happy when I saw Conor (Murray) and Earlsy (Keith Earls) being taken off in one of the games. I knew it was okay to watch the rest of it.

“It is a hard question to answer. I think Simon against Romania was the spark out on the Wembley turf. It was a pity the try that was disallowed wasn’t awarded. In some respects we probably wouldn’t hear the end of it. He has that skill, that ability, something different; I am happy that he is back playing with Munster is probably the most politically correct answer. He’s fit and well and healthy.”

The same cannot be said for Zebo’s World Cup comrade Luke Fitzgerald, who will miss Leinster’s Pro12 home clash with league leaders Scarlets after injuring his neck/shoulder area in last Sunday’s win at Treviso.

“He went for a scan, he’s just getting assessed for the week. He won’t play on Friday,” Leinster head coach Leo Cullen said of Fitzgerald yesterday.

“I think anyone who’s had surgery that he’s had before, he’s a long-term fear for sure, but for the moment he’ll rehab, we won’t play him on Friday but you know we’ll be hopeful he’ll be back in time for Europe.”

Champions Cup organisers EPCR yesterday welcomed Turkish Airlines on board as an official partner alongside Heineken in a three-season deal that will run through 2017-18.

While there is hope for Fitzgerald to make the opening weekend, the province’s first-night opponents Wasps are sweating over a citing appeal due to be heard today concerning Leinster’s former fly-half Jimmy Gopperth, suspended on Tuesday night for three weeks for a striking offence committed against Leicester in the Aviva Premiership last Sunday.

“At this moment in time he’s had three weeks which would rule him out but we’re definitely going to appeal that so who knows how that goes,” Wasps director of rugby Dai Young said.

“But it’s really disappointing for him if he doesn’t play because the kid’s not even had a yellow card in his whole career and he’s not that type of player.

“He’s really upset about it. We felt that the yellow card was sufficient and were surprised he got cited for it. So to come out of last night’s hearing with three weeks was really disappointing and surprising for us and we feel we have to appeal it on his behalf.”

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