Zebo questions Ireland's 'annoying' eligibility rule
SPOTLIGHT: Ireland outcast Simon Zebo has wished James Lowe the best when the New Zealander makes his Test debut on Friday for his adopted country after recently qualifying under the three-year residency rule.
Lowe will become the eleventh foreigner to qualify for Ireland since the IRFU embraced the project player scheme in 2012 when capping South African Richardt Strauss.
This process allows imports from New Zealand, South Africa and elsewhere to become eligible for Ireland Test team selection after living in the country for a 36-month period.
However, while foreigners willing to live in Ireland have been embraced by the Irish team set-up, locally born and bred talents such as Racing 92’s Zebo are deemed ineligible for selection as they play for a club that isn’t based in Ireland.
Not since June 2017 had former Munster back Zebo been capped by Ireland, who have instead capped imports such as New Zealanders Bundee Aki, Jamison Gibson-Park and now Lowe along with South African Jean Kleyn in recent times.
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Zebo doesn’t hold anything against the likes of Lowe, who played for the New Zealand Maori in 2017 versus the Lions.
What he does have an issue with is how he is viewed as ineligible to be part of an international team he represented on 35 occasions. No matter how well he performs in the Top 14, he frustratingly knows he won’t be considered for Ireland selection by current boss Andy Farrell, who has adopted the same stance as his predecessor, Joe Schmidt.
Appearing on the latest episode of RugbyPass Offload in the company of Jamie Roberts and Ryan Wilson, Zebo had no axe to grind over Farrell’s selection of Lowe to start against Wales in the Nations Cup.
“To be fair, I have no issue with that,” he said.
“More power to him [Lowe]. Go out and do your thing. He has been an integral part of Leinster for the last couple of years. He has been banging in tries – he deserves it 100 percent.
“I hope he goes out and has a great debut.
“Obviously I would love to be involved. That will probably never change. But not being eligible just because I play abroad would annoy me more than someone like James or Bundee [getting picked].
“We saw when Johnny [Sexton] was playing abroad [at Racing]. People say, ‘Oh, we’re protecting Irish rugby’, but how many players left when Johnny left? There wasn’t a big exodus. There hasn’t been a big exodus since I’ve left. That is a bit of a myth. It was the same when Tommy Bowe left to play for the Ospreys,”
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He added: “The annoying thing would be that I am ineligible but definitely not any angst towards James or Bundee or these guys.
“They give it 100 per cent every time they play either provincially or for Ireland and power to them. But you hear stories of coaches in the past going out, ‘Come play in Ireland, you’ll play for Ireland’. There probably has to be a bit more value put on the Irish jersey or what it means to Irish people to play for their country.
“At times the business side of rugby can take over a bit more when it comes to wanting to win games.
“There are a few things that I wouldn’t agree with but for people like James, Bundee and these guys, CJ [Stander], more power to them. They are great players and they only add to the team.”