Conor Murray: Simon Zebo knew the risks of international exile

Conor Murray says the green shirt is the best weapon Ireland have in the war against foreign teams.

Simon Zebo was yesterday omitted from Joe Schmidt’s squad to face South Africa, Fiji and Argentina next month – following his reported decision to join Racing 92 next summer. It was an instant rebuke to the Corkman, but a risk Murray says Zebo knew he was taking.

The Munster and Ireland scrum-half believes Zebo’s decision to move at the age of 27, rather than later in his career, could lead to many more players following his lead and admits his own head has been turned by some of the sums mentioned abroad.

But the biggest thing keeping him and others at home is the draw of the Ireland shirt – and running out at Lansdowne Road.

“It’s a big decision isn’t it,” Murray said, “but it’s a reality as well, it’s a short career and you’ve got to look at that side of things.

“But to be denied playing for your country is a big deal, so it’s a massive carrot to hold up in front of you. It’s a big decision, because playing over in the Aviva on international days is an incredible feeling.

“Being involved in the national setup, the way you’re looked after is class and it’s a great squad to be a part of.

“I’ve a lot of good mates in that squad, we enjoy playing together, playing for your country.”

Denying a player like Zebo the chance to add to his 35 caps may seem harsh, but Murray understands the realities for the IRFU, too.

He’s disappointed he won’t share the Aviva Stadium dressing room with his best mate anymore but knows why that must be the case.

“The IRFU can’t compete, financially it’s too hard to compete with French and English clubs,” he said. “I see the risk if they make an exception with one player that other players will see that as an opportunity that they’ll be able to go and earn a bit more and continue to play international rugby but there’s another side of it as well, if you’re good enough you should play also.

“There hasn’t been an official rule but it’s everyone’s understanding that to play for Ireland and be selected you have to play in the country and play for one of the provinces. Speaking to Simon he knows that too so it’s a risk.”

Murray’s current contract expires after the 2019 World Cup when he will doubtless be flooded with offers from some of Europe’s wealthiest clubs.

“It could be, it could be,” Murray said, when it was put to him that his contract expires with potentially lucrative timing.

“I think I’ll be 29 or 30 when that comes around, so you’d have to look at it, weigh everything up. A few New Zealand lads have done it before, they have taken time off and come over to Europe and earned their money.

“If that’s what the players want then the IRFU can see their point of view.

“I don’t see why it wouldn’t happen. People talk about it all the time and now Simon has gone and done it.

“Does that mean more players are going to do it at different ages? It’s all down to the player I think.

“It’s not really down to the IRFU if someone wants to go and earn that extra bit of money but then you are back to the risk of you losing your international place in the squad. It remains to be seen now that Zeebs has gone and done it as one of the younger guys to do it. We’ll see, we’ll see what happens. Definitely, it’s going to turn heads.”

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