Friday 28 July 2017

Youthful out-half is keen to get his big break in the west

It's been a long road via Leinster, New Zealand and Munster, but Bray man feels at home now

Steve Crosbie during training Picture: Sportsfile
Steve Crosbie during training Picture: Sportsfile

Daragh Small

It would be ironic if another New Zealander gave Steve Crosbie his chance in Ireland, but now playing for his third province, the out-half knows it's time to make an impact.

The 24-year-old has travelled the length and breadth of the rugby landscape in his short career, and New Zealand played a big part in shaping him on his journey.

He always dreamed of playing rugby in the Southern Hemisphere and it was a Kiwi, former Leinster defence coach Kurt McQuilkin, that created the opening for Bray man Crosbie down south.

The former St Gerard's student had his time in New Zealand cut short when Munster came calling earlier this season, and then another New Zealander, Pat Lam, acquired his services in Connacht.

However, everything has been temporary up to now, and with new Connacht head coach Kieran Keane arriving from Super Rugby franchise the Chiefs for the 2017-18 season, Crosbie hopes to proves himself one more time.

"I love the fact that there is still a Kiwi influence in Connacht. It would be devastating to see it go backwards after the amount they have invested," says Crosbie.

"With Kieran's experience and his background with the Chiefs, I have no doubt he will be a great influence on the way Connacht try and play.

"It's a new coach so everyone starts on a clean slate. Hopefully I will get kept on to be able to influence him, and make sure I can make a good impression, which we will all be doing next pre-season.

"However, you can't look that far forward. You need to concentrate on this season to make it easier for Kieran to come in."

Connacht have a lot of ground to make up if they hope to welcome back Champions Cup rugby to the Sportsground next season, but after two wins in a row in the Pro12 they have begun to pick up some valuable momentum during the Six Nations.

Crosbie almost made his first appearance in green during Connacht's 14-9 victory over Dragons last weekend, but he was denied his opportunity at the death. However, that will come in time.

He took the conventional route up to the Leinster academy, via the competitive Leinster Schools Cup. He attended St Gerard's School in Bray, and captained their senior cup side, with Ireland and Leinster back-row Jack Conan as his second in command.

Contract

"We were the only two who went on after that. Jack was a year ahead of me, rugby-wise.

"I joined the academy then when he signed a senior contract. We wouldn't have done the academy stuff together, he had moved on."

While Conan made his move on to the Leinster senior set-up, it never happened for Crosbie. He did make the breakthrough with two Pro12 appearances against Scarlets and Edinburgh, but it all eventually unravelled.

A shoulder injury got in the way, and Crosbie even contemplated retirement. He briefly took up a sales position in 'Business & Finance' magazine, but something didn't feel right.

McQuilkin came to Crosbie's rescue, and with word filtering through that his friend Gavin Thornbury was also heading for New Zealand, the former Old Belvedere out-half followed suit.

"I played with Gavin my whole life. I got shoulder surgery early on in February. I heard him talk about going down there and was interested," says Crosbie.

"Kurt referenced me to go there. He put my name down, so I can't thank him enough for that opportunity. And then the two of us ended up in Wanganui together, and we were working away and playing in the Heartland Championship as well. It was an unforgettable experience.

"I was devastated for it to be cut short, but I got the chance to come back home and into the system and I could have missed out on that, a short-term contract with Munster."

Crosbie's father Paul played a major role in the move to Munster, along with his agent Karl Hogan, from BSMG.

And his opportunity at Munster wouldn't have come about had Johnny Holland not had to retire through injury.

It was a devastating blow for the Munster No. 10 and Crosbie was simply in the right place at the right time.

"Persistence is the best ingredient for any sort of formula. You can do the hard work, but it might not get noticed - something mightn't go your way in terms of injuries, or a different coach's perspective," he says.

"For a fella to break through he has to try and open as many doors as possible before giving it up. There is always an opportunity, it's just whether you want it enough."

However, when Crosbie came back home his Munster career never took off and it was Jack Carty's injury at Connacht that brought him to Galway. Now he is determined to make it third time lucky in Ireland.

"I had a conversation with Rassie Erasmus coming towards the end of it after Christmas. For whatever reason, I didn't get a run.

"The timing of it, there was a potential season-ending injury for Jack Carty. I got a phone call straight away, but thankfully Jack's injury was not as bad. I got called on the back of that. It's a short-term deal as of now, and I will do my best for the team."

Irish Independent

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