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Munster back in action after Zebo woes

Wednesday, 25th October, 2017 5:09pm

Munster are back in Pro14 action on Friday evening after a week of mixed results.

The joy following a resolute win over Racing 92 in the Champion's Cup was quickly dampened by the confirmation that Simon Zebo, the club's top try scorer of all time, is set to leave the province at the end of the season.

The fullback is understood to have signed a pre-contract with Racing 92 and will join the French club next season.

Given the policy of IRFU and the Irish management to only pick Irish-based players, Zebo has also effectively ruled himself out of international activity with his move and looks to have sacrificed a place at the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

Munster Rugby CEO Garrett Fitzgerald said: “Working closely with the IRFU we put ourselves in the best position possible with an excellent offer, and while we are largely successful in retaining our best players within the Irish system we know it is out of our hands on this occasion.

“We are hugely disappointed to see Simon leave but we wish to thank him for his immense contribution to the province and wish him and his family all the best for the future.”

Zebo himself said: “This club has moulded me into the player and person I am today and I will forever be grateful for that. It has always been my dream to play for my home club, wearing the red jersey while representing my family, friends and local community.

“However, I have always noted the draw to play abroad one day, and in not taking this decision lightly, I have decided on what’s best for my family. With my partner Elvira and two young children, Jacob and Sofia, we are planning for our future and this is the right time for us to make the move.”

Zebo continued: “As much as I will miss everything about this place – the players, staff, supporters and friends for life – I know there are many more special nights in Thomond Park and Irish Independent Park to be had. I will continue to enjoy wearing my jersey with pride and will give my all in making sure Munster are successful this season.”

Born in Cork, Zebo began his career at Presentation Brothers College and Cork Con while advancing through the Munster underage representative sides and moving from the academy on to senior ranks. He has played 124 games so far, making his debut against this Friday's opponents Connacht at the Sportsground in April 2010.

On the international front, Zebo has played for Ireland on 35 occasions, scoring nine tries, and toured with the Lions in Australia in 2013.

Meanwhile former Munster player Donnacha O'Callaghan has confirmed that he will retire at the end of this season and return to his native Cork. O'Callaghan has been based with the Worcester Warriors for the past two years, and despite offers, the 38 year old will return to Cork.

O'Callaghan has spent the past two years in England after departing from Munster while his wife and children remained in Cork. He has enjoyed a career that has spanned 20 years.

Meanwhile, Munster will travel to Galway where they face Connacht who have achieved back to back wins in Europe. They now sit top of Pool 5 in the Challenge Cup, hoping to continue their run of form after a mixed start to their Pro14 season.

Although Munster achieved the double over Connacht last year, reversing the trend of the 2015/16 campaign, the western province will be looking to build on recent performances in front of their home support.

With Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane and John Muldoon expected to return, both sides are putting the plans in place for a typical derby battle.

On a player return front, prop James Cronin (knee) and locks Darren O’Shea (shoulder) and Jean Kleyn (neck) reported no ill effects following game-time in their respective encounters in the Champion's Cup and B&I Cup.

However hooker Niall Scannell underwent surgery this week for a thumb injury he sustained in the Champion's Cup round one tie against Castres, while Tyler Bleyendaal, who was injured in the same encounter, will continue to be managed for a neck injury this week.

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