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25th Sep 2023

“I’m not putting him down. I really like him as a player” – Matt Williams suggests change on Ireland bench

Niall McIntyre

Matt Williams reckons Ross Byrne should be ahead of Jack Crowley in Ireland’s out-half pecking order.

Crowley, the 23-year-old Cork man, stole a march on Byrne in recent months and was selected as Johnny Sexton’s second-in-command for Ireland’s 13-8 win over South Africa on Saturday night.

A strong performance against Australia last November, as well as a brilliant URC campaign for Munster looks to have stood to Crowley in the build-up to the tournament, and he came on for Sexton with nine minutes to go in the big Pool B clash in the Stade de France.

But speaking on Virgin Media, former Scotland and Ulster coach Matt Williams wasn’t impressed by Crowley’s management of the game in the closing moments. That’s why, in those pressure situations, he’d prefer to have the Leinster man Byrne steering the ship.

“I hate to say it because he’s a fine young player and he’s Ireland’s future, but I didn’t think Jack Crowley handled the last few minutes of the game, organisationally-wise and game-management, very well at all,” said Williams.

“In those last few minutes, I think it was 77 minutes on the clock, Ireland were red hot on South Africa’s line.

“And I don’t think he imposed himself to organise the group properly, to say what he wanted. ‘I need calm heads, I need to hold possession.’

“I thought the drop goal just wasn’t on, he wasn’t ready, he wasn’t there.

“I think Ross Byrne’s maturity and experience, managing those situations, like the rest of the games are going to be equally as tight going forward.

“And again, I’m not trying to…to all the Munster people and his family, I’m not putting him down.

“I really like him as a player. But maybe he hasn’t got enough experience for these really high pressure (moments) He’ll learn from that last night but maybe Ross needs to come on the bench,” concluded Williams.

Former Leinster and Italy out-half Ian McKinley agrees with Williams that Byrne is more suited to closing a game out, but would give the nod to Crowley if it was a question of either of them starting the game.

“On the bench, in that type of context of a game where you’re looking to close it out, you’d probably go for Ross Byrne but then again, if you’re looking for a ten to potentially start a game, you’d go for Jack Crowley.

“But I do think Ross’s game is best suited to those clutch moments,” he said.

Meanwhile, Rob Kearney feels Andy Farrell should shuffle his deck for the Scotland game on October 7, and has backed five subs to start, and freshen things up.

“I can see a few changes. I think it would be prudent, giving more energy to the squad the following week.

“I think I’d start Finlay Bealham, I would give Dan Sheehan and Iain Henderson a game, I’d get Jack Conan back into the mix and Robbie Henshaw, I’d give him a game too. They’re five players who will not take away from your performance.

“Five players who deserve a start, and they’ll add to the game, because this will be their first start. They’ll bring a huge amount of energy to the team,” he said.

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