Zebo's departure a major blow, but how can you begrudge him for doing what's best for his family?

“With my partner Elvira and two young children, Jacob and Sofia, we are planning for our future.”

Updated Oct 23rd 2017, 9:30 PM

SIMON ZEBO HAS always been open and honest about his desire to pursue opportunities abroad, and so it has come to pass with his departure from Munster confirmed amid varying degrees of shock and disappointment this afternoon.

Simon Zebo leaves the field with his son Jacob Zebo and his son Jacob. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

As recently as last week, the Ireland international confessed that he was deliberating over his future which had become the subject of renewed speculation amid interest from several French clubs. Once the chance arrived, he was always going to seriously consider it and that’s never been a secret. It was just a matter of when, not if.

At the heart of it was his young family.

18 months ago, he was in the same position but committed to Munster despite the lucrative approaches of Top 14 club Pau. On this occasion, it was the right time to seek a new challenge, the allure of a Parisian lifestyle clearly too good to turn down.

And you can never begrudge him — or any player  — for maximising their earning potential when the chance arrives. At 27, Zebo’s capacity to do so is at its peak.

A career as a rugby player is becoming increasingly short-lived and fickle. Why wouldn’t you make the most of it when you can, because nobody — in any walk of life — can deny they’d do exactly the same.

On a rugby level, however, his loss — to both Munster and Ireland — is a major blow, confirmed as much by the lengths the province and IRFU went to in their unsuccessful bid to retain his services. A significant financial package was tabled, but Zebo had made up his mind and is now poised to join former team-mates Ronan O’Gara and Donnacha Ryan at Racing 92.

“It has always been my dream to play for my home club, wearing the red jersey while representing my family, friends and local community,” he said in today’s press release.

“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.”

It is a decision that Zebo feels suits him and his family. Nothing else really matters, even if his departure represents a significant setback for Joe Schmidt halfway through a World Cup cycle.

The IRFU’s stated policy of only considering home-based players for international selection effectively means Zebo has sacrificed his chances of playing in the 2019 World Cup, although an allowance was made for Johnny Sexton during his time with Racing.

Simon Zebo Zebo training with the Munster squad in UL today. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

And will Schmidt now select the Cork native for next month’s internationals against South Africa, Fiji and Argentina — in which he was tipped to start at fullback — or cast him aside on the back of today’s announcement?

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Such policies are in place to safeguard the provinces, but it would be a great shame if one of the country’s finest footballers, in his prime, was not to play for Ireland again because of his ambition to play abroad. Either way, his absence will be keenly felt at both international and provincial level.

Since making his debut for the province against Connacht in April 2010, Zebo has gone on to make 124 appearances in the red and is now Munster’s all-time leading try scorer with 55 scores, the most recent of which came in the Champions Cup win over Castres.

On Saturday, he played his part in defeating his future employers on one of those indelible European nights at Thomond Park with the type of performance which underlined why he has been in such demand from elsewhere; skill, flair and a raw talent.

“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,” he added.

“I will continue to enjoy wearing my jersey with pride and will give my all in making sure Munster are successful this season.”

Losing a player of Zebo’s class and calibre — one of their own — will be another bitter pill to swallow for Munster supporters, particularly after the IRFU deemed Ryan surplus to requirements last season, but once the initial disappointment alleviates, life will go on.

After all, rugby is just rugby.

You can’t blame him for doing best for his career and family.

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Ryan Bailey

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