Munster have confirmed the news that they have re-signed Simon Zebo after losing the now 31-year old to Racing three years ago.
The devil is in the detail.
The contract will be ”co-funded” by the province and the IRFU and comes on the back of Munster’s decision to let Darren Sweetnam and JJ Hanrahan depart for French shores while signing the South African lock Jason Jenkins.
Those bits of business were criticised at the time given it resulted in the net loss of two homegrown stars and the arrival of another South African import, especially when head coach Johann van Graan confirmed last month that the departures were directly attributable to the Covid crunch.
However, CJ Stander has since revealed that he is to retire at the end of the season. The back row was on a central IRFU contract and his loss, while disappointing from a playing point of view, did free up money earmarked for player contracts.
The deal still needed some other figures to fall into place before it could happen and it was ultimately the player's willingness to accept a smaller salary than he might have received elsewhere that facilitated the switch back to his own province.
“The opportunity to bring Simon back to Munster came about in early April following a final review of our squad’s budgetary position for season-end and with assistance from the IRFU to support what we believe is a really good deal for Munster and Irish Rugby,” said van Graan.
“Simon’s desire to return to Ireland and play with his home club is illustrated by his willingness to sign at a level below his market value elsewhere. This has made bringing the province’s all-time leading try-scorer back home, possible.”
The other interesting aspect to Zebo’s return is that it is on a one-year contract.
Twelve-month deals have been far more common, in Ireland and elsewhere, because of the financial landscape in recent months. Zebo is 31 and told the Irish Times last year that he would like to continue playing until he is 33 or 34.
He has intimated before now that his next contract would be with the club where his career would end and he has spoken about making the 2023 World Cup in an Ireland jersey so he will have to earn a shot at another deal if that remains his wish.
“I am thrilled and honoured to be coming back home to play for Munster,” Zebo said.
“My family and I have been so lucky to have enjoyed three incredible years with Racing 92 in Paris and I cannot thank the team there enough, I really have made friends for life and take with me some brilliant memories.
“However, as everyone knows, Munster holds a very special place in my heart and I’ve always said that I wanted to play for them and potentially Ireland again, so when this opportunity arose the lure of being close to home, family and friends and Munster fans, it outweighed all other options. I cannot wait to get back to the HPC with the team and hopefully a packed Thomond Park.”
Zebo is the province’s all-time leading try scorer having dotted down 60 times in 144 appearances between 2010 and 2018 and he has crossed the try line 21 times in his 55 games to date for Racing 92.