Ronan O’Gara says Jack Crowley has shown the potential to be a long-term option for both Munster and Ireland at out-half.
The 22-year-old found himself thrown in at the deep end against Australia last Saturday, promoted to start at out-half at short notice, after an injury in the warm-up for captain Johnny Sexton.
Crowley acquitted himself well in a tight, tense game, successfully landing his two place-kicks to help steer Ireland to their eventual 13-10 win.
O’Gara has long been an admirer of his fellow Corkman, admitting in January 2021 he’d tried to bring Crowley to La Rochelle, with the out-half opting to stay and fight for his place at Munster.
Nearly two years on from that decision, it appears to be paying off for Crowley.
“I thought he was very good,” O’Gara said, at an event for Benetti Menswear this afternoon.
And while the La Rochelle director of rugby says he believes Crowley could be “the solution” to Ireland’s search for a long-term out-half option, it can only happen if he’s given consistent rugby.
“I watched him develop for a number of years. I think as a number 10, you get better the more you play and the more comfortable you get in that position.
“You can see in the development of the game, from the start to the end, I think from the start he barely saw the ball he was so nervous, and that’s understandable, because you’re thrust into a position where you’re being challenged to goal-kick, line-kick, to run a backline, to run a team, and he’s still very young and inexperienced.
“What he needs now is big games, European games for Munster, games in the Six Nations, and then World Cup warm-ups, he could be the solution.”
Crowley has stiff competition for gametime at Munster, with Joey Carbery the more experienced of the province’s out-half stock, while Ben Healy’s recent performance against a South African Select XV at Páirc Uí Chaoimh was a not-so-subtle reminder that he’s also capable of running a backline.
The province are heading into a block of 10 games, seven of which will be Irish derbies and Champions Cup games, starting with Saturday’s BTK United Rugby Championship meeting with Connacht.
And O’Gara says Graham Rowntree needs to be decisive on his out-half depth chart, rather than trying to keep all three happy.
“They’re spoilt for choice, there are three different players in the one position, as it always falls really. The three of them fit at the same time, as a coach you don’t want that, in the fact that sometimes your decisions can be made for you.
“Munster are probably in that territory where they have to back one of them to play the first two European games. I’d say that will either be Joey Carbery or Jack Crowley. Or maybe they try to play Joey Carbery at 15 and Jack Crowley at 10, Zebo and Earls on the wings.
“They probably have multiple options in that regard but I think what you expect in a big club is huge competition for places. What you don’t want to do, I would think, is try to keep a balancing act with keeping two of them happy.It just doesn’t happen at top level sport.
“Especially in the number 10 position, I think you have to back and empower one of them and then for the other to understand: ‘I’m trying to do what’s best for the team. You’ll most definitely get minutes, and I need you to be performing for whatever, 20 or 30 minutes if that’s the case’,” he added.
The La Rochelle director of rugby was asked to comment on his 10-week suspension by French rugby authorities, after he was found to have “harmed the best interests of rugby” by a disciplinary panel. O’Gara was also fined €15,000 with a further €5,000 suspended fine.
It’s a fourth suspension in just over a year for the former out-half, the previous three of which were for incidents involving officials.
Details of the latest suspension remain vague, with no reference to a specific date or offence. However, the only match O’Gara had coached since completing the most recent six-week ban was against Brive on 5 November.
The former Ireland international said he could not comment on the incident yet, but is due to meet with the La Rochelle club president tomorrow to discuss whether or not they will appeal the ban.
O’Gara was once again asked about reports naming him as a possible successor to replace England head coach Eddie Jones after next year’s Rugby World Cup in France.
The Munster man has been named alongside Scott Robertson and Steve Borthwick as the potential front-runners, should Jones move on from Twickenham next year.
He’s openly discussed those links in recent months, admitting he would give the role real consideration should it become available.
And he says it would be an attractive job for any coach.
“Yeah it’s a huge decision to even contemplate because there’s a lot to it.
“Obviously, considering I played for Ireland for a long period of time, it’s not something you’d ever contemplate as a player but times move on and it becomes appealing because you feel like you have a group that could win a World Cup, and that’s what becomes exciting.
“To test me, to test your players, at the highest possible level under extreme pressure. That stimulates me, that awakens me and that inspires me.
“But obviously you have to give an incredible amount of thought to what it would look like. It’s one thing contemplating it but actually putting that into reality is something that I genuinely haven’t given the necessary depth of thought because it’s a huge decision. “
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