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Six Nations Players to Watch: Ireland’s Jack Crowley

The debate over who would eventually replace Johnny Sexton as Ireland's fly-half has raged for almost a decade, but Jack Crowley seems to have put the discussion to bed.

The 24-year-old's performances in helping Munster win last season's URC saw him emerge as Sexton's understudy in time for last year's World Cup and he took that form into Friday's Six Nations opener against France.

Even a missed first-half penalty did not derail his performance as the playmaker guided his side to a 38-17 record-winning-margin victory over Les Bleus to set his side up for a repeat Grand Slam at 8/13.

Sexton is arguably Ireland's finest-ever number 10, but he, too, had to bide his time behind Ronan O'Gara.

Looking back on the former skipper's early days, the more rounded Crowley is ahead of where Sexton was at this stage of his career and the shirt could be his to lose over the next decade.

Rugby Union

Factfile

NameJack Crowley
NationIreland
Place of BirthInnishannon
Age24
ClubMunster
PositionFly-half, Centre, Full-back
Height6ft 1in
Weight89kg
International Caps10
International Points43

Odds

Unprecedented back-to-back Grand Slams would of course bring a second straight title for Ireland, available at 1/5, with another Triple Crown priced at 4/6.

Should that occur, then Crowley could be a candidate for the Player of the Tournament award, currently available at 12/1, while after nailing six of his seven kicks at goal during his team's opener, the Munsterman is a handy 11/4 to be the tournament's top points scorer.

Ireland's next Six Nations match is against Italy on Sunday. Andy Farrell may rotate, as he did against the Azzurri last year. Either way, his team are 10/11 carrying a -36 handicap.

Background and Profile

Born in Innishannon, Crowley was schooled at Bandon Grammar School, the same educational institution as Munster colleague Gavin Coombes.

His first senior rugby appearance came with Cork Constitution, a club that has proved a conveyor belt for internationals, with O'Gara and current Ireland captain Peter O'Mahony also representing Con in the amateur ranks.

Crowley then signed for Munster, representing the A side in the 2019/20 Celtic Cup before being promoted to the senior set-up and debuting against Ulster in January 2021.

After demonstrating his versatility by featuring at inside-centre and full-back, the 24-year-old is now fully established as Munster's number 10, with Ben Healy having left for Edinburgh and Joey Carbery, another previously viewed as Sexton's successor, due to depart in the summer.

Crowley's influence at the provincial level was best demonstrated in last season's victorious URC campaign, producing a late drop goal to help his side to a 16-15 semi-final win over Munster before shining in his team's 19-14 Grand Final victory away at Stormers.

International career

Crowley came through his country's international ranks, helping the under-20s to a Six Nations Triple Crown in 2020 and also representing Emerging Ireland, Ireland A and the Sevens squad.

His senior international debut came against Fiji during the 2022 Autumn Nations Series, replacing Carbery in a 35-17 victory and was then called into the XV to face Australia at short notice, replacing Sexton after the then-skipper was injured in the warm-up.

He kicked a conversion and a penalty in a 13-8 victory over the Wallabies and also featured during the 2023 Grand Slam.

Ross Byrne's form woes, especially in big games, saw Crowley move ahead of the Leinsterman in the pecking order as Sexton's understudy and, after some decent showings at the World Cup, Farrell may regret not giving him some minutes from the bench in the quarter-final defeat to New Zealand.

If that was a low, Crowley's most significant international high was his controlled display against France in Marseille, contributing 13 points with the boot and plenty more with ball in hand during that famous victory.

What to expect 

Like Sexton, Crowley's short passing and ability to create overloads by offloading deftly before picking up the second ball on the wrap-around allows both Munster and Ireland to stretch opposition defences.

The Munsterman prefers to play flat to the line, allowing him to instantaneously spot gaps in the opposition defence, as demonstrated by him popping the ball up to provincial and international colleague Tadhg Beirne for his side's second try in Marseille.

Whisper it, but like Carbery and Byrne, Crowley is also arguably a better goal-kicker than his predecessor, with his missed first-half penalty a rare error as he slotted from all angles at the Stade Velodrome.

Sexton's aggression and drive were seen as key to his country's success during his tenure but Ireland's new number 10 seems to have a cooler head. At the same time, his experience of playing across the back line allows him to see the game differently. This perhaps makes him happier to delegate, using Jame Lowe's left boot for clearing kicks just as often as taking on the responsibility himself.

It is clearly early days but Crowley is potentially ahead of Sexton in his development - the former captain took years to move out of O'Gara's shadow and establish himself. 

Sexton's silhouette will be present as Crowley works his way into the Ireland number 10 shirt, but after so long struggling to find an alternative to their talisman, Ireland may have found the right player to take them into the next World Cup in 2027.

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