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12th Jan 2023

Ronan O’Gara on the Munster legend that tipped him off to Jack Crowley

Patrick McCarry

Jack Crowley

“He was just craving to play.”

Not long after Jack Crowley had made his Test debut, an Irish rugby legend was on Twitter singing his praises.

Waving the Cork, Munster and Ireland flag, Ronan O’Gara congratulated the young outhalf on his appearance off the bench in a win over Fiji and added, “He dreamt of today for a very long time.”

O’Gara, a Munster and Ireland icon, already knew heaps more than most of us before Crowley ran out onto the Aviva Stadium pitch for his debut. Not only had he a snap taken with the Cork youngster when he was a mere sapling, O’Gara had sought to bring Crowley to France for some Top 14 experience.

The La Rochelle head coach told House of Rugby [LISTEN from 33:30 below] about how he was alerted to Jack Crowley as he made big strides in Munster’s underage set-up, and how he already has many of the tools required to make it at the top.

Jack CrowleyIreland head coach Andy Farrell with Jack Crowley at the Aviva Stadium. (Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile)

Ronan O’Gara on Jack Crowley

A week after his Test debut against Fiji, Jack Crowley was drafted in to start in Johnny Sexton’s actual jersey for a high-pressure outing against Australia.

The 22-year-old [he turns 23 on Friday] looked right at home, even with the Wallabies gunning for the green outhalf. He returned to Munster to duke it out with Joey Carbery and Ben Healy, under the watchful eye of attack coach Mike Prendergast.

Crowley made his Munster debut, at the age of 19, in October 2020 but was already conscious of both Carbery and Healy being ahead of him. Around that time, Ronan O’Gara was settled in at La Rochelle and was open to the idea of getting the Cork youngster over to the coastal town to work closely with. O’Gara takes up the tale:

“Yeah. I’d have a very good relationship with Donal Lenihan and Donal has a great eye for players. He probably understands that when I’m home, I can’t meet everybody, so he carefully selects ones.

“Jack was one of the ones that he had identified from a long number of years ago. I remember having coffee with him and just picking his brain. Jack gets the game very well. He understands everything that’s involved with managing a team around the pitch and game-management, which is crucial.”

Donal Lenihan, as a Munster legend and a former Ireland captain and team manager, is well across rugby matters inside and outside Cork. He had been tracking Crowley’s progress and felt a chat with the province’s most famous 10 would help massively on his journey.

British & Irish Lions team manager Donal Lenihan (green jersey, front row) with Irish members of the Lions squad, including Ronan O’Gara (back row, left) in 2001. (Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile)

‘Jack is in good hands with Mike Prendergast’

Ronan O’Gara came away from his coffee with Jack Crowley convinced he had many of the tools required. Ultimately, and with Munster urging patience, the young outhalf opted to stay and fight for minutes with his home province.

“A lot out-halves, these days, underestimate how pleased forwards are when the ball is in front of them,” O’Gara notes.

“So you have to keep your front five happy, and also keep your outside backs happy. That’s what good 10s do. They understand when they pull the trigger with miss passes, but they also understand that they want to keep the ball in front of the forwards.

“Anyone that is listening to me will understand that Jack’s basics were very good. He was just craving to play [with Munster]. For me, when I was starting to play for Munster, I was able to make big mistakes and still get picked the next week. Now, it’s got so competitive that it is very hard for young players to have that opportunity to, in succession, mess up! And that’s what makes players better, you know?

“And that’s why I think he is in good hands with Mike Prendergast – he will really fine-tune him and grow his game. What Munster are lucky in is that they have three excellent No.10s. They’ll all get their opportunities so it’s just a matter of being ready. Their skillsets are quite different – Joey can play anywhere in the backline but, in a Test match, he’s a very interesting guy to spring off the bench.

“Jack Crowley looks to be more of a strategist, in that he could probably start a game for you, and Ben Healy would be the same. A lot of decisions there for the Munster management but what’s crucial for them is they’re in form and their confidence is high.

“You have to try get the best out of all of them and, with that, there is going to be disappointment but people just have to accept it. Three into one doesn’t go. The reality, though, is three into two. It’s either 50:30 (minutes split) or 60:20 but then, the following week, it might be a different combination. What you want to be doing there, if you’re the coaches, is that whoever is in the saddle, he’s bringing a confidence to the team. Because if your 10 is humming, your team is usually humming, as well.”

Heading into the 2023 Six Nations, Jack Crowley will be hoping that he showed Andy Farrell enough in his time with the senior squad, in November, to merit another call-up.

Ross Byrne proved his match-winning mettle, off the bench, against the Aussies and Harry Byrne is back fit again. There are now five live options for the Ireland 10 jersey – discounting the injured Ciarán Frawley – so more Test minutes will be scrapped for and hard won.

Watching from France will be Ronan O’Gara, already a supporter and pleased that his decision to stay home has benefitted a club he holds so dear.

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