Simon Zebo will rejoin Munster next season, after the province confirmed the 31-year-old's signing this afternoon.
Zebo returns to his home province after a three-year spell at French side Racing 92, in which time he's scored 21 tries in 55 games.
His deal was confirmed by Munster Rugby and the IRFU today, with Zebo signing a one-year co-funded deal.
It had been reported in recent months that the versatile back-three flier had not been offered a contract extension at the Parisian club, leading to speculation he would return to Thomond Park, while a switch to Declan Kidney's London Irish in the Premiership was also touted.
But Munster have now confirmed the signing of their record tryscorer, with Simon Zebo to arrive back home in time for next season.
"The opportunity to bring Simon back to Munster came about in early April following a final review of our squad’s budgetary position for season-end and with assistance from the IRFU to support what we believe is a really good deal for Munster and Irish Rugby," said head coach Johann van Graan.
"Simon’s desire to return to Ireland and play with his home club is illustrated by his willingness to sign at a level below his market value elsewhere. This has made bringing the province’s all-time leading try-scorer back home, possible," he added.
Zebo says he had always hoped to return to Ireland before the end of his career.
"I am thrilled and honoured to be coming back home to play for Munster. My family and I have been so lucky to have enjoyed three incredible years with Racing 92 in Paris and I cannot thank the team there enough, I really have made friends for life and take with me some brilliant memories.
"However, as everyone knows, Munster holds a very special place in my heart and I’ve always said that I wanted to play for them and potentially Ireland again, so when this opportunity arose the lure of being close to home, family and friends and Munster fans, it outweighed all other options. I cannot wait to get back to the HPC with the team and hopefully a packed Thomond Park," he said.
à bientôt @Munsterrugby 🦌🔴 pic.twitter.com/3yqmYAa5gJ
— Simon Zebo (@SimonZebo) April 14, 2021
Zebo played 144 times for Munster in his first spell between 2010 and 2018, scoring a provincial-record of 60 tries. That record had looked set to be broken by Keith Earls sooner rather than later, with a recent brace of tries in the Heineken Champions Cup defeat to Toulouse closing him within one of Zebo on 59. But with the Corkman set to rejoin Earls in the backfield next season - and being a couple of years younger that Earls - time might be on his side to protect that particular legacy.
While Zebo has been unable to pick up silverware as of yet in the tenure at Racing 92, he did score two tries in their Heineken Champions Cup defeat to the Exeter Chiefs last term. And with Laurent Travers side currently third in the Top 14 table, he will have one last shot at the title before he returns to Ireland.
The move also opens up Simon Zebo for a return to international rugby, as he looks to work his way back into contention for a place at the 2023 World Cup. Zebo scored nine tries in 35 caps before being annexed from the squad when his move to France was confirmed, with his continued absence proving a sticking point for many fans as Ireland fell apart in the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
His presence will add to what is now looking like a very healthy list of backfield options for Johann van Graan, with Keith Earls, Andrew Conway, Mike Haley and Shane Daly already locked in fierce competition for places, with further options in the form of Matt Gallagher, Calvin Nash, Liam Coombes, and another young prospect Sean French, who will be stepping up from the academy next season.
The prospect of Zebo working with Munster's senior coach Stephen Larkham is also mouthwatering. While their attack failed to fire against Toulouse in last month's PRO14 final defeat to Leinster, the side have expanded their attack over the course of the season, evident in the tries they scored in their 40-33 defeat against Toulouse.
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