The Top 14 may be renowned more for the levels of physicality on show than the finesse but Jonathan Sexton believes Simon Zebo is the type of player who can stand apart from all that blood and the guts and sheer drudgery.
The Munster back will join the world’s richest domestic competition next year when he takes his leave of Munster and joins a French club — believed to be Ronan O’Gara’s Racing 92 — and Sexton knows more than most what awaits him.
The Leinster, Ireland, and Lions out-half spent two years with Racing between 2013 and 2015 and he believes that the likely end of Zebo’s career due to the IRFU’s tendency against picking players who play abroad will actually help him make his mark on the continent.
“I don’t know how much physicality would be out on the wings and full-back,” he laughed. “There is some big wingers actually if he plays against Montpellier every week, but I think they love that type of player in France, like Simon.
“Skill, flair, attacking, (he) can do something out of nothing. I am sure they will love him down there. Yeah, it’s pretty unstructured as well. He will be allowed to have a free role and do what he wants and that is where he is at his best.” Sexton only sees Zebo getting better again as a player.
It is an opinion that highlights just how much of a loss he is to Munster and the Irish game at just 27 years of age and, though Sexton described it as a “big call” at that age and just two years before the next World Cup, he wished Zebo nothing but success.
There was no phone call from Zebo to pick his brains on his own two-year term in Paris. Not recently nor when Sexton was in situ in the French capital, but Sexton echoed many a thought when saying that it would be nice to see him back on Irish soil before his career ends.
The move is proof again that the IRFU can’t hope to persuade every high-profile player to stick around under their umbrella, but the union continues to do well by balancing out smaller pay packages with the promise of the best in player welfare.
Sexton is playing sublime rugby right now for Leinster having been given plenty of time off after his summer tour with the Lions. Some of his English compatriots on that tour were back in competitive Premiership action on the opening day of the season.
So will the trickle of departures ever become a steady stream?
“It’s very hard to know,” he assessed. “Obviously the IRFU and the provinces seem to keep more guys than they let go and the guys that they desperately want to keep.
“But, at the same time, they can’t compete with the French market. They’re hoping that by only picking guys that are playing here that the draw of playing with Ireland will outweigh the extra few bob that you get over there.”
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