Munster head coach Johann van Graan has praised Simon Zebo’s leadership abilities after the Cork man returned to his home province.
Zebo is in line to play his first competitive match for Munster since 2018 against the Sharks on Saturday, having spent three seasons with Racing 92 in the Top 14.
While the 31-year-old continued to impress while off in France, he hasn’t played for Ireland since 2017 due to the IRFU’s policy on picking only home-based players for the national team.
Although Zebo hasn’t had a taste of international rugby in over four years, van Graan believes the talented back has continued to improve his game in the time he has been away from Ireland.
Johann van Graan on Simon Zebo.
“Zeebs was always a class player, he just continued that way at Racing. I’d say he’s certainly developed his game even more from a maturity point of view, from a leadership point of view,” van Graan said at a press conference.
“Obviously the more you play the more experienced you become and just small little things in terms of back-three play, the way you attack and the way you defend and the running line and he’s really shared that with everybody around him.
“We’ve got a saying, we don’t compete with each other, we share with each other and he’s been really excellent with all the lads and the younger lads.
“If you look at our squad there’s some incredible competition in that back three and everybody’s bought into and so has he. So really good to have him around the building.”
🎥 PRESS PASS | Johann van Graan and Jack O’Donoghue spoke to the media yesterday ahead of our opening game of the season, check out the best bits from the Press Conference ⤵️
— Munster Rugby (@Munsterrugby) September 22, 2021
Munster set to take on the Sharks of South Africa.
Munster will face the Sharks in the first round of the United Rugby Championship on Saturday, in what should prove to be a tough encounter against a side that have shown themselves to be the second best South African team in recent years.
Zebo could start on either the wing or at full back for that clash, although he has plenty of competition in the back three in the form of fellow Ireland internationals Keith Earls, Andrew Conway, Mike Haley and Shane Daly.
Munster will be the favourites against the Sharks, as the South Africans are missing Springboks stars such as Siya Kolisi and Lukhanyo Am, but the southern province certainly won’t be taking their opponents for granted.
With the URC’s regular season consisting of just 18 games, and with European qualification more difficult than ever, Munster will be very eager to get their season off to a winning start in Limerick.