Crowley hopes to pass French Test and prove worthy heir to Sexton

Crowley hopes to pass French Test and prove worthy heir to Sexton

Ireland rugby fans will hope Jack Crowley rises to the occasion when he runs out on Friday wearing the fly-half’s No 10 shirt which was Johnny Sexton’s property for over a decade.

HT Image

It is just as well the 24-year-old fly-half is a “confident lad”, in the words of Ireland head coach Andy Farrell, given his baptism of fire is in the cauldron of Marseille with Six Nations titleholders Ireland taking on 2022 champions France.

HT launches Crick-it, a one stop destination to catch Cricket, anytime, anywhere. Explore now!

This confidence comes naturally, as he showed by turning down Ronan O’Gara’s offer to join him at Top 14 side La Rochelle in 2021 when Crowley was Munster’s third-choice fly-half.

“He is the only guy to have ever said no to me,” admitted O’Gara ruefully this week.

O’Gara, never one generous with his praise, has always been a fan, opining back in 2020: “Jesus, what a hope for Irish rugby.”

Crowley has kicked on from that assessment and his decision to reject O’Gara’s offer bore fruit as he surged from third choice to become number one at Munster.

Now he gets the nod for the moment which a lot of Ireland fans dreaded when Sexton’s name would no longer be on the team sheet.

Sexton brought the curtain down on his 118-cap career — encompassing two Six Nations Grand Slams and becoming all-time points scorer in the tournament — as the final whistle blew on their heartbreaking Rugby World Cup quarter-final defeat to New Zealand last October.

In the more than a decade that Sexton owned the first-choice spot, having replaced O’Gara, several had tried to take the shirt off him.

However, Joey Carbery, Billy Burns and Ian Madigan were no match for Sexton as their rivalry pushed the 2018 World Player of the Year to ever higher levels of performance.

Crowley, though, for another former star fly-half Tony Ward, who turned out for Munster and Ireland, appears to have elements the others lacked.

“He has vision, presence and versatility,” Ward told AFP.

“He looks to be the one who can replace Sexton. He has the self-belief and the assurance.”

Ward’s one concern is his lack of experience — Crowley has nine caps and 239 minutes of Test match rugby, just three minutes of that total came in the Six Nations, under his belt.

“There is no substitute for experience,” said the 69-year-old, who was considered one of the most naturally gifted fly-halves globally of his generation.

“Farrell is trying to replace one of our most experienced and greatest fly-halves and we had O’Gara before him so it is a big ask and challenge.

“Crowley I genuinely believe has the demeanour on the pitch which says, ‘Lads, no problem, I am in control’, and with experience I think he could be a very good player.”

Crowley showed in cameo performances at the Rugby World Cup last year glimpses of the talent that Ward warms to.

Ward is also impressed by the mettle that Crowley shows when he makes mistakes.

“I do not think he gets rattled easily,” said Ward.

“He makes mistakes and then tries something audacious, so he has confidence in himself and does not panic unnecessarily.

“That shows a strength of character.”

Not all are buzzing with confidence over his ability to make the fly-half position his own.

“Johnny Sexton’s shadow is very much hanging over them,” former Ireland fullback Hugo MacNeill told AFP.

“He is not a threat but he is very much there, not by his own volition as the last thing he would want is to put pressure on them.

“However, until somebody proves they can take a game by the scruff of the neck the fly-half position will be an issue.”

Crowley, for his part, says he is ready to meet the challenge of filling the boots of O’Gara and Sexton.

“Given the calibre of the two lads and what they’ve achieved for their provinces and for Ireland as a nation, of course that comparison is going to be there,” he said.

“There’s an expectation — but I think that’s what makes Irish rugby so good: that we have that expectation and ambition. I hope that we can fulfil that.”


Related Articles