Versatility of Jack Crowley gives Ireland an extra World Cup spot to play with
The Johnny Sexton ban scuppered one warm-up tactical plan.
Following Ireland's weekend win over England, the RTE panel of Jerry Flannery, Stephen Ferris and Jamie Heaslip all make an underlined note of Jack Crowley slipping back to play a bit of 12 for a while.
Crowley came on to replace Bundee Aki after 58 minutes and played a 10-minute cameo there before closing the match out as No.10 when Ross Byrne was called ashore. It was a seamless outing from Crowley and yet the former Ireland internationals were wide to it.
Flannery noted how Garry Ringrose is 'your nailed-in 13' to start Ireland's big World Cup games, leaving Aki, Robbie Henshaw and Stuart McCloskey vying for inside centre. Where McCloskey was looking a solid bet for that final World Cup squad, earlier this summer, doubts are emerging. It is nothing to do with his form - he was solid against Italy and may start against Samoa - it is just that Andy Farrell has an array of options.
Flannery added that McCloskey really 'needs to be on it to get on that plane' if he gets another chance against Samoa. World Cup games against big Tongan and Springbok XVs will be on Farrell's mind, and McCloskey would be handy in those games. However, Crowley also being able to cover 12 goes against the big man from Bangor.
Versatile Jack Crowley provides extra option
"I think the centre is going to be a huge call," said Stephen Ferris, "and obviously Jacob Stockdale or Keith Earls. It's a flip of a coin on that one."
Heaslip added that if players are not guaranteed of making the match-day 23 for the big games 'you better be versatile'. That goes against Stuart McCloskey, although he spoke on that very subject after the Italy match. Asked if being a specialist 12 could go against him, he replied, "Not so much in this team.
"I think when Joe [Schmidt] was coaching, it definitely hindered me in terms of getting games as I just play 12. But Robbie is a world-class 13 when he plays there. Ringer is probably the best 13 in the world, at the minute. I think I am a pretty good 12. If you need me to play 12, there, the other guys can move around and be just as good in other positions, so I hope it doesn’t hinder me. But if it does, it is what it is.
Crowley has only six starts at inside centre in his professional career, but often slotted into the role for Munster matches, when the likes of Ben Healey or Joey Carbery were playing. Ireland may well have tried him there in one of the warm-ups but the three-match ban to Johnny Sexton scuppered any such thoughts.
McCloskey may yet go if Farrell and his coaches think the squad can do with just 18 forwards or if someone like Jack Conan misses out, with Cian Prendergast covering No.8.
The fact that Crowley can also cover 12 and we have (touching wood as I type) Ringrose, Aki and Henshaw in good nick means that final backs call is going to be a white-knuckle one. Earls and McCloskey look to be scrapping for that last spot but anything can yet happen between now and the 8th of September.
BRIAN O'DRISCOLL ON FIRST CALL-UPS AND CAREER HIGHS:
- Ireland team vs. Samoa: Andy Farrell changes it up, with World Cup opener in mind
- Jack Crowley not letting Ross Byrne out of his sights, as Cian Prendergast books World Cup ticket
- Ireland vs. England: All the talking points, biggest moments and player ratings
- Roy Keane cracks jokes with Johnny Sexton and Andy Farrell at Ireland training camp
- Paul O'Connell on his most treasured jersey swap and toughest opponent