Ireland may have finally found Sexton's successor
SPOTLIGHT: The task of succeeding Irish talisman Johnny Sexton has been beyond some but in Jack Crowley Ireland may have at last found their man.
Joey Carbery and Billy Burns have in recent years been touted as potential successors, without managing to dislodge the 38-year-old from the No.10 jersey.
With 23-year-old Crowley, things could be different.
Even Ireland great Ronan O’Gara, who is not renowned for doling out compliments, has long tipped him to shine.
“What a hope for Irish rugby,” O’Gara told Irish website 42.ie three years ago after watching Crowley score an astonishing individual try against Scotland Under20s.
Crowley has yet to produce such a moment at senior level but his glorious dink kick that set up Ireland’s 12th try in the dying moments of their 82-8 mauling of Romania in their World Cup opener was an indication of his vision.
That is what sets him apart from the steady but unspectacular Ross Byrne, the other pretender to Sexton’s throne once the 38-year-old departs the scene at the end of Ireland’s campaign.
That Crowley got the nod from head coach Andy Farrell as understudy for Sexton against Romania –with Byrne left to kick his heels in the stands – said much about the confidence the coaching team have in the Munster man.
He stands a good chance of Farrell naming him in the starting role for a tough clash with Tonga in Nantes next Saturday.
Crowley has certainly been ruthless in his surge to the top, with Carbery the principal victim.
Having left Sexton’s province Leinster in a bid to secure more first-team rugby, Carbery’s Munster hopes were dashed by Crowley’s prodigious talent.
Former Australia flyhalf Stephen Larkham, who was Munster’s head coach in 2020, recognised his potential.
“I think to prove you are a great player you need to do that over time and all the markings are there that he is going to do that,” said Larkham at the time.
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‘You need game time’
He has been proved right, for it was Crowley and not Carbery who started and starred in Munster’s 19-14 United Rugby Championship Final victory over the Stormers in May.
A few months later and Crowley was named in Farrell’s World Cup squad ahead of New Zealand-born Carbery, who had looked set to be the long term successor to Sexton from even before the 2019 edition.
Crowley said the faith that has been placed in him has had a huge impact on his progress.
“Game time is massive for anybody’s development and particularly as a 10,” said Crowley after Saturday’s victory over Romania.
“You need a game feel and build your game management, build everything you know, playing in pressure situations and being able to deliver in those situations.
“So being exposed to that for the first time was huge for me and I’m very fortunate that I got the opportunities to be exposed to those situations to learn.
“I know myself I’ve got a lot to do, and to get to those levels, you need game time.”
With just seven caps, Crowley is far from the finished article but he has absorbed much from training with the arch-perfectionist Sexton.
Competition for the starting jersey has not stopped the three flyhalves from being friends.
Crowley described it as “a special, special relationship.”
Crowley is a huge admirer of 2018 World Player of the Year Sexton, who scored 24 points in the win over Romania in what was his first competitive match in almost six months.
“The way he’s applied himself to training and the way that he applies himself to preparation and everything like that is massive,” said Crowley.
“You saw that it wasn’t just by fluke that he performs the way he does, the way that he can do certain things.”