Zebo has backed Paul O'Connell's move to France. James Crombie/INPHO
the french connection

'It's catching up with football day by day' - Simon Zebo on rugby's expanding wages

Zebo has backed Paul O’Connell to be worth every penny in France.

THE FLOODGATES HAVEN’T quite opened, but Simon Zebo says a few drops are starting to seep their way through.

Paul O’Connell’s departure for France after the World Cup came as a bit of a surprise to the Corkman, but he sees the logic.

Careers are short, and the thought of a new project after nearly 14 years wearing one shade of red is an attractive way to sign off a career.

There’s also money, and the fact is there’s more of it in France. Zebo knows this too, and he doesn’t shy away from talk of it, as sensitive a subject as it is.

With contracts and sponsorship getting bigger and bigger, it seems inevitable that someday Irish rugby will see their first €1m-a-year player. While the increased money coming into the game has been a touchy subject amongst fans, Zebo is honest enough to admit he’d only naturally love to be part of a million euro club.

In reality, who wouldn’t?

“I hope so. I hope I’m one of them!

“The way it’s gone, it is catching up with football day by day. These players earning massive contracts in France, getting €30,000, €40,000,  €50,000 a month. That’s soccer money, 10 grand a week; even though it might not be the top end.

“There is more and more money coming into the game. It’s great. Hopefully I’ll be earning €1m a year,” he laughs.

Simon Zebo, Conor Murray and Peter O’Mahony Zebo at the launch of Munster's new jerseys with Conor Murray and Peter O'Mahony Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Whether that money is available in Ireland or elsewhere remains to be seen. With French family and as a fluent French speaker, Zebo says that if he does find himself moving to the Top 14 someday, his background would make the move less of a talking point.

With a contract to be renewed in Ireland following the World Cup, there is a decision to be made should an offer arrive. Like most professionals though, he’s not giving anything away. The World Cup will come first. He’ll think about contracts down the line.

“I would say so, yeah, it would be way less of a deal. I have a lot of family over there. I speak French, but that is something that I would have to think about come contract time, which is actually quite soon. I’ll be negotiating soon enough, maybe after the World Cup.

“Yeah. That’ll come when it comes, just a hundred per cent focused on playing and trying to perform because these test matches coming up are going to decide whether you get on the plane or not. It’s going to be a big couple of weeks.”

While O’Connell’s departure came as a shock, Zebo says he understands the Irish captain’s reasons.

He may have played for the final time with O’Connell in the Munster red, but the focus now is ensuring he has a few final outings with him in green.

“It was quite strange. He’s his own man and he has done a hell of a lot for Munster and Ireland and he, as much as anybody, has earned the right to experience something new and broaden his horizons. Fair play to him. It was a big decision for him to up and move his family.

“He will be a massive success over there and I just wish him all the best, but that is a long way down the road in his eyes and ours. All we are focused on is putting our hands up and trying to play with him a couple of times before he goes,” he says.

Paul O'Connell and Simon Zebo celebrate winning Zebo is hoping he can add to his trophy collection with Munster. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“People have to look after themselves and it is such a short career. We don’t have the luxury of being in this business and earning this money for 30, 40 years.

While he knows he would have no trouble adjusting to a french lifestyle and a french style of rugby, he’s more reserved about the thought of leaving Munster.

“It’s massively important but it is extra hard to leave a club like Munster which, I think, is different to every other club because that loyalty, passion and what you get back from the fans is different to any other club I’ve played with or been to. It would be doubly as hard [to leave] but, at the end of the day, you have to look after yourself and your family.”

If he is to leave, be it in a year or 10, the pay cheque wouldn’t decide his location. He may have won a Six Nations title with Ireland this year, but trophies in his club career are still a priority.

He was breaking into the Munster side in 2011 when they claimed the Magners League title, but aside from that silverware with the province has eluded him.

Silverware, rather than pieces of silver, will ultimately decide his future.

“I would be very ambitious. I want to win trophies. Winning with Munster and Ireland is the dream and that’s what I want to achieve.

“I think it’s the same in Paul’s case, if you do decider to leave, you don’t just decide to leave and pick up a pay cheques. I’m sure Paul wants to be successful and wants to add to the massive trophy cabinet that he already has.”

Simon Zebo, Conor Murray and Peter O’Mahony yesterday launched the new adidas Munster Rugby 2015/16 home and alternative kits. The jersey is available to buy from the 25th July in Life Style Sports Stores nationwide and online at

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