Jack Crowley’s assured display in Velodrome cauldron augurs well for a bright future

Young outhalf’s mature performance in his first Six Nations start can only imbue him with confidence – and increase his team-mates’ belief in him

While it was a humiliating night for Les Bleus, it’s worth stressing the composure which this Irish side demonstrated in their calm response to France twice coming to within a score with tries from their power game. Many previous sides in green simply buckled.

The “next moment” focused mentality which has been developed under Andy Farrell, the team leaders and their sports psychologist Gary Keegan served them well again, none more so than Jack Crowley.

He’s a bright and confident lad without being brash. Like any outhalf he is going to make wrong decisions or execute incorrectly. That’s because outhalves are usually a team’s primary decision-makers. It goes with the territory.

The 24-year-old made mistakes on Friday night amid the sometimes deafening din of the Vélodrome cauldron, but in some ways that only served to make the maturity of Crowley’s performance even more impressive.


There was the early charge down of his attempted kick by Grégory Alldritt; his ill-advised and overcooked grubber into what was a typically tight in-goal area in a converted football stadium; going through with a seemingly pre-planned diagonal kick off a scrum strike move which went out on the full and the missed, relatively straightish 35-metre penalty. And all this in the first half-hour.

He was perhaps trying to do too much and no doubt some Irish WhatsApp groups would have been speculating as to when Crowley might be receiving the shepherd’s hook.

But even amid all this Crowley was taking the ball to the line square-on while picking the right option from Ireland’s usual array of off-the-ball runners and timing his passes beautifully.

A prime example was when wrapping around Bundee Aki’s pull back and launching James Lowe in the build-up to Aki sending Jamison Gibson-Park over for Ireland’s first try. He’d have known his delayed pass.

Better still was how Crowley weighed up the thin blue line and the space between Peato Mauvaka and Jonathan Danty before his delayed, short pass put Tadhg Beirne through for Ireland’s second try – again taking the big hit by Mauvaka as Danty was perhaps caught in two minds by James Lowe wrapping around.

His best of some strong carries beyond Maxime Lucu after Gibson-Park ran blindly off a scrum might have led to another try had the excellent Caelan Doris not inadvertently trapped the ball with his foot in the clearout. Josh van der Flier thus had to check his charge before receiving Gibson-Park’s pass when held up over the line.

Thanks to the liberal use of Lowe’s howitzer left boot, Ireland won the territorial game, and Crowley’s two long, hanging kick-offs and Hugo Keenan’s chasing helped in this regard too.

He was almost error-free in the second half, when pulling the strings with increasing assurance and, of course, there were those superb conversions virtually on or in close proximity to the left touchline which turned three more tries into seven-pointers.

By the end, confidence oozing through his every pore, Crowley was even countering and dummying the French replacement scrumhalf Nolann Le Garrec inside his own half to link with Lowe.

Importantly, and true to type, as well as taking the hits on the gain line, he didn’t shirk his tackles or breakdown duties, and he was central to Ireland maintaining an aggressive line speed from the first minute to the last.

All this in his first Six Nations start and no doubt acutely mindful that he was assuming the mantle from a generational player. There will be more mistakes, but he is only going to get better and this assured first Six Nations start can only imbue him with confidence, and likewise his team-mates in him.

Crowley is now unbeaten in his 10 Tests. But it’s no coincidence that his best performance in those games came when starting his first of four Tests with the de facto Irish first-choice team. For example, Gibson-Park was excellent in taking pressure off his outhalf and also in general play, while outside the Irish outhalf, Bundee Aki was back to his World Cup form and a guaranteed outlet for go-forward ball.

The growth in this Irish team’s mentality is as striking and important as their unrelenting desire in defence and multi-skilled, nuanced attacking game. It’s part of the reason players such as Joe McCarthy, Crowley and Calvin Nash could step so seamlessly into this side.

“It’s like the rest of our game, there’s no end to it, the same as the journey. There are more stops along the way and this was one of those,” said Farrell, and while by rights a journey should have an end, he explained: “There’s no end to achieving the right mental capacity to be the best team that you can possibly be.

“But it is something that we value as huge in our psyche because, at the end of the day, the game’s all about decision making and it’s an emotional game, and once you make those decisions about how accurate you can be on the back of it.

“Over the years, it’s always been about physicality and getting one over on your opposition as far as that’s concerned but being accurate with your decision making and then being able to be accurate with your physicality because of those decisions is something that we constantly strive to get better at.

“But more than that, making sure that we get over ourselves and not carry it on to the next challenge is something that is tough in an environment like that, with an atmosphere and when it means so much to the group.

“But we’re learning that pretty quickly actually so it’s getting better. Some are getting better than most but by-and-large we’re making good strides in that regard.”

Arguably no one epitomised this better than his young outhalf.

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times