Joe Schmidt has warned Simon Zebo he may be risking a shorter playing career by turning his back on Ireland and has cited Johnny Sexton’s time in France as evidence, writes Simon Lewis.
The Ireland head coach, who has omitted the Munster star from his squad for this month’s Guinness Series of internationals, spoke at length with Zebo concerning his decision to quit his province at the end of this season and join Racing 92 in Paris, the club Sexton played for from 2013 to 2015.
Schmidt said he stressed to the 27-year-old full-back that while there was no rule barring him from selection he would be falling behind in the pecking order as home-based players were rewarded for their loyalty, adding that those players were also better looked after by the IRFU.
“There is no policy,” Schmidt insisted. “There is only an intention from the IRFU to best protect the provinces and the local game. We believe that the best way to do that is to select from within Ireland.
“The other real advantage is that selecting within Ireland, the players can be better managed. We already know that.
“There’s one player who went to Racing and was played for the first 12 games in the season, and I’m not sure he’s ever had the same resilience since then. So we’re looking to manage our players, we’re looking to add to the longevity of our players. At the same time we’re trying to support the provinces.”
Asked to clarify his point about Leinster, Ireland and Lions fly-half Sexton, Schmidt added: “I think it’s pretty self-evident.
“He hasn’t played 12 games in a row since then and that’s because: you pick up the wear and tear and it’s hard then to get that back. The wear and tear is something that, you can get a long rest and bounce back, and Johnny’s had a few rests (since his return) and he has bounced back.
“What you tend to do as a more experienced player, is you tend to manage your time a little bit better. But in this country you get that opportunity a lot more.
“It was the same with Paul O’Connell. I think he really extended his career by staying. He got himself in the right shape, his time was managed and there are players who have taken up that opportunity.”
Speaking ahead of Tuesday night’s Guinness Rugby Writers of Ireland awards in Dublin, Schmidt also addressed World Rugby’s decision to recommend to its council members that South Africa should stage the 2023 World Cup ahead of bids from France and Ireland.
The deciding vote takes place on November 15, when the council is expected to endorse the recommendation of the World Rugby board and its technical evaluation but Schmidt said there was still a reason to stay positive for the Irish bid.
“It is disappointing. At the same time I know we’re not going to give it up, we’re going to keep trying. World Rugby said all three bids were of a very high quality and all three could host the World Cup.
“So if we could do it then we’re still in the mix. I think the things that were pointed out (in the evaluation) are not insurmountable, so we’ve got to stay positive and keep trying.”