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Highlights on Off The Ball

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Highlights on Off The Ball

Ronan O'Gara dropped into Monday Night Rugby on Off The Ball, where he discussed the possibility of the IRFU relaxing rules to allow Simon Zebo to play.

O'Gara was full of praise for Zebo's performance in the Heineken European Champions Cup final defeat by Racing to Exeter, and questioned whether the rules should be relaxed for his Ireland inclusion.

"He had an exceptional game [...] He's a big-game player, he always has been and it obviously creates a debate about his future in green after that performance," O'Gara said of his former teammate.

"Well, obviously it doesn't," said O'Gara, correcting himself. "With Rob Kearney retired, Jordan Larmour and Will Addison injured [he starts].

"I understand and respect what the IRFU are doing, keeping their best players at home.

"The other side of that argument is, if a guy isn't on a central contract but can earn good money overseas and is still a very good option for the test team, then that needs to be looked at."

Benefits

Playing international rugby is still a motivating factor for top rugby players according to O'Gara.

"It's in the club's interest to look after players as well. Anyone with any bit of ambition in them wants to play at the highest level," said the former Ireland number ten.

"For us in La Rochelle, to get just two players in the 31 man France squad was a massive disappointment.

"So that's a burning goal in players and staff because you want to see them chasing their dreams and playing in blue.

"We have guys heading off to South Africa, playing with Argentina, with Fiji. When you are coaching in France, you want to see them play for France as well.

"The club game is going to be huge but the International game, nothing beats it and the best players want to play with the best players, irrespective of where you play the game.

"If you look at the ideas brought to Munster by Dougie Howlett, a lot of us brought that to Ireland camp. That's of benefit to everyone."

Would Zebo cause an exodus?

If Zebo was allowed back into the fold, does O'Gara think there would be an exodus of players abroad?

"I don't think so. I wouldn't be of the opinion that you make an exception, I think a flexibility in the rule itself might be important," argued the La Rochelle head coach.

"If you have a guy playing for one of the provinces he has a good chance of making the Ireland team. If you have guys playing at the top clubs around Europe, that creates more competition.

"The counter-argument to that is you want to keep control of the players and the best players playing.

"At this stage, that cycle is nearly going on 20 years and we're so dependent on Leinster, Munster and Ulster players."

While O'Gara can see the lure of overseas rugby, he can see why players, just as he did, stay on these shores.

"I think too a lot of the players are testing the market. If there are opportunities to go they consider that but then it comes back to players in Ireland get really well looked after on and off the pitch," O'Gara said.

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2020 Six Nations IRFU Ireland Rugby Monday Night Rugby Munster Racing 92 Rog Ronan O'Gara Simon Zebo Six Nations

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