The fact that Simon Zebo may never get to play for Ireland again is truly heartbreaking
He may have sensed this was coming. Still, not seeing his name in the squad list will hurt like hell.
Of all the phone-calls Simon Zebo had to make over the weekend, the one to Conor Murray was surely one of the hardest.
For the best part of a decade, the pair have been inseparable. Driven teammates for Munster, Ireland and the Lions and the best of friends away from the field.
"He is who he is and he doesn't try hide any of that," Murray tells us, "and I respect that massively about him. Massively. It's grown into a great friendship and we have a great understanding on the field. That's what kind of made me sad the other night [Sunday], I was thinking about all those good moments we had on the pitch."
Murray was speaking at the launch of Vodafone's 'Who We Are is How We Play' campaign ahead of next month's Guinness Series. As marketable as he is talented, these are the type of extra gigs Zebo will miss out on when he moves to France from next summer on. More importantly, he will miss playing for Ireland.
35 caps and out. Barring an injury crisis, that is how it is looking for the 27-year-old. Effectively retired from Test rugby as the IRFU want to discourage an exodus of talent at the cost of the national team, and the four provinces.
Zebo's likely departure to Racing 92 was discussed in-depth on The Hard Yards podcast [from 2:20 below] and there was a large degree of sympathy that this may be the end of the road for one of the most precocious talents Irish rugby has ever produced.
Former Leinster and Ireland star Kevin McLaughlin said:
"It's his decision. He's made the call and he realises the risks that are involved.
"If you look at some of the guys that have moved abroad, the IRFU have been very clear and they've made a statement that they will now, automatically prefer [give preference to] players that are on Irish soil. He's got all the data and he's gone ahead and made the decision."
McLaughlin referred to the versatile Zebo as 'a phenomenal loss for Munster' and raised the worrying spectre of the province losing more top players, as they have already, to the likes of Racing and Pau.
The IRFU's position may seem harsh but it is understandable. We just have to look at Wales, Scotland and Australia to see top rugby nations haemorrhaging talent to English and French clubs while still calling them up for international duty. The Welsh and Aussies have tried to find a compromise but Ireland are holding firm - unless you are, without question, the best man for the position [ie: Johnny Sexton], your time with Ireland is up if you move abroad.
Zebo became indispensable to Ireland and contributed to some of their finest moments [see below] over the past two years and showed a more rounded game that impressed not only Joe Schmidt but knowledgeable and passionate fans of the game.
— Darragh Murphy (@DarrMurphy) November 5, 2016
So, for now, it is thanks for the memories Zeebs and we hope to see you back in Ireland - as an opposition player - as soon as a cup draw or pre-season friendly allows.
THE HARD YARDS: Playlist
1.30 - Kev reveals a hidden talent we didn’t know he had
2.20 - The panel discuss Simon Zebo’s move
4.10 - Kev outlines the motivating factors for Zebo’s move
5.20 - Kev and Vinny discuss the Champions Cup and the state of the groups
7.40 - What Ulster could have done differently
10.05 - Vinny Hammond and what he does for Irish Rugby
11.50 - Getting up early for Joe Schmidt
13.40 - The limitations of the international window
15.00 - What Vinny does in camp
16.00 - The key moment that won Ireland the Six Nations a few years ago
16.50 - Consistency
18.50 - Players getting upset with the performance analysts
20.20 - Paul O’Connell
25.10 - Kev’s experience with Jono Gibbes and internal & external stats
31.00 - Ultan Dillane interview
34.00 - How he arrived in Connacht
52.00 - A look ahead to the weekend’s games
58.52 - Listener questions with Kev