No one in or around the Emerging Ireland squad will want to admit it publicly, but Ciarán Frawley’s injury-enforced absence has put a major dent in the plans for the tour to South Africa.
In an ideal world, Frawley would have started at out-half in two of the three upcoming games against the Griquas, Pumas and Cheetahs, yet as one door closes, another one opens.
Enter Jack Crowley, the next cab off the rank.
Apart from a brief stint in the sevens set-up, the last time we saw Crowley in a green jersey he was showing just why there was so much excitement around his potential when he left school.
Two years ago, Ireland were on course for another U-20s Grand Slam until Covid intervened, but even in the three games that did go ahead, Crowley’s talent was obvious.
Ronan O’Gara was certainly impressed by what he saw, which is why he picked up the phone last year and made a big play to bring his fellow Cork native to La Rochelle. After mulling it over, Crowley decided to stay put and back himself to make it at Munster, the team he had grown up dreaming of playing for.
Even at that early stage of his career, it was a huge decision to make. Not many Irish out-half hopefuls would turn down O’Gara, not least one who idolised him in his younger days.
It did, however, speak volumes for the confidence that Crowley has in his own ability because while O’Gara may have been able to promise him regular game-time in France, his ultimate goal is to play for Ireland.
Considering the goal-kicking struggles that Ihaia West had endured before coming good when it mattered most in last season’s Heineken Champions Cup final win over Leinster, Crowley might well have been involved that day.
That’s all in the past now, even if Crowley’s Munster career hasn’t yet fully ignited. Still only 22, time is on his side.
The former Bandon Grammar student and his fellow out-halves in the Emerging Ireland squad – Jake Flannery and Cathal Forde, Frawley’s replacement – would have known that much of the focus of the tour was on getting the Leinster man regular minutes in the No 10 jersey.
Last week’s unfortunate shoulder injury has denied Andy Farrell and Simon Easterby, the Emerging Ireland head coach, a chance to see Frawley enhance his leadership and game-management skills within a younger squad.
The Skerries man will still be part of Ireland’s plans as we move towards next year’s World Cup, but the next couple of weeks will provide Crowley with a golden opportunity to make his case.
The Innishannon man has already demonstrated his game-breaking ability with the Ireland U-20s and Cork Con in the Energia All-Ireland League (AIL), but it was perhaps his performance in Castres back in January that proved he has the big-game temperament.
Playing in one of French rugby’s hotbeds and with the temperature having plummeted to below zero, Crowley had ice in his veins as he nervelessly kicked 11 points en route to a gritty European victory for Munster.
Although he is stuck behind Joey Carbery and Ben Healy in the pecking order, Crowley has still managed to play 16 games for his home province.
He will know that if he impresses in South Africa, starting against the Griquas tomorrow (12.45 Irish time), he will do his chances of further game-time in red no harm.
With Carbery the incumbent, Crowley’s first job is to overtake Healy (23) as back-up out-half.
South Africa’s Currie Cup teams will provide a stern physical test in his quest to move up the ranks.
Crowley is expected to start at ‘10’ when the Emerging Ireland team is named today and while Ulster’s Flannery (23) is another exciting prospect, his former Munster team-mate will be the one under the spotlight.
Just as Frawley would have been asked to lead the team, there will be a big onus on him to now do the same.
This might not have been part of the plan when the squad was initially named, but Frawley’s loss is Crowley’s gain, as he looks to show just why O’Gara was so desperate to bring him to France.