It’s a battle for teams like Munster to sign marquee players these days, as the cash-rich French and English clubs have big cheque books to do the talking.
Nevertheless, Simon Zebo believes tradition will help overcome the problems and keep the Irish provinces in the zone for success.
In relation to Munster, he cites the presence of Francis Saili to substantiate his argument: “The gap is definitely growing. It’s getting quite big, I think money is one side of the game, but on the other side is tradition.
“You see Francis (Saili) who has had many opportunities to sign with English or French clubs, but decided to come here because of what Munster Rugby is all about. Once the financial gap is not too big — the players will find Irish provinces and Irish rugby very attractive.”
But the Cork man admitted there could be a tipping point.
“But if it gets to that stage then I’m sure the IRFU will do something about it.
“Until then, we’re still signing world-class players like Francis and now the new coaching staff has brought in, by all accounts, a world-class second row (Jean Kleyn from Stormers) so the lure and attraction of playing here is still there.”
After a poor season in 2015/2016, when Munster struggled to qualify for the upcoming Champions Cup, the arrival of Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber as Director of Rugby and Defence coach respectively should shake things up down south.
Zebo sees that as a challenge rather than a threat and he’s delighted Anthony Foley retained his position as head coach and is still very much at the coal-face.
“His (Foley’s) depth of knowledge is exceptional, he passes things on very well to the players. Bringing in the Director of Rugby is only going to help him. It’s not a hindrance at all as far as Axel is concerned, he’s as motivated as ever to go out and help the team.”
Zebo is relishing a chance to work with the South African pair.
“You don’t want to be going in having already made judgements of what you expect. You want to go out and live it for yourself and enjoy it in your own way.
“That’s what we’ve done as a squad, and as soon as he’s come in the enthusiasm and excitement has gone up and Jacques on the defensive side, since he’s come in, everybody is raving about him. Fingers crossed it should be a great thing for us.”
Zebo has no intention of moaning about a disappointing season just gone. The past is now in the rearview mirror.
“There can be no excuses, definitely. We hold very high standards for ourselves no matter if people write us off, we within our four walls know what we are capable of what we can do and we’re very excited about the season ahead and we think it can be a successful one.
“We just need to focus on what we can do; that is the performance on the pitch and go out and deliver this year because we haven’t won a trophy regularly enough for a length of time we’d consider acceptable.
“To win something this year and/or do something special in Europe is on the agenda.”
To do so, Zebo admits the team will have to win over the fans again. He understands the frustration coming from the terraces.
“We don’t blame the fans at all because the past few seasons have been tough. They (supporters) were excellent a couple of years prior but our performances have let them down and we need to repay them and get them back cheering for us.
“I’d be confident we can do that this year because we’re going out to be playing a good style of rugby and getting a lot more wins.
“That’s what we demand of ourselves and the fans demand it as well.”
Meanwhile Leinster have apointed Charlie Higgins as the province’s new Head of Athletic Performance following the departure of Dan Tobin. Higgins (43) spent the past five years with Super Rugby side Western Force.
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