Stepping off his right and then quickly off his left, Jack Crowley burst through the Scottish defence in his own 22 to raise the decibel level at Musgrave Park in Cork.
Showing superb pace to sprint down the field, Crowley used a powerful left arm fend to take care of the Scottish fullback before touching down under the posts.
That score from Ireland’s opening U20 Six Nations win over Scotland at the beginning of the month soon went viral and it firmly planted the talented out-half in the Irish rugby consciousness.
— RTÉ Rugby (@RTErugby) January 31, 2020
For many supporters throughout the country, Google searches were made in haste in order to figure where this talented 20-year-old came from.
A product of Bandon Grammar, where he captained the Senior Cup side, and Bandon RFC, the Cork man impressed through the age-grades and played with Munster ‘A’ this season in the Celtic Cup. He’s also been lining out for the top AIL team in the country, Cork Constitution. The reigning champions are flying high at the summit of Division 1A with 11 wins from 11.
Of course, Crowley won’t be involved with Con over the next few weeks as he guides the U20 national side through the rest of the Six Nations campaign, but it’s safe to say that playing adult club rugby, at the highest level in the country, has certainly aided his development.
In fact, his development in the pivotal out-half position may not have progressed at this rate if it wasn’t for the unfortunate and serious injury to starting Cork Con out-half, Aidan Moynihan. In his AIL debut, Crowley started at fullback, but shifted to 10 when Moynihan went off injured. He’s held the jersey ever since.
“There’s a big step up coming from playing your own age grade in school to club,” Crowley said.
“The Munster Senior Cup is a high standard, but it’s a different sort of a game when you come into league rugby and senior rugby. Sometimes it’s not going to be all about that flair where you’re scoring off unbelievable team tries, magic moves.
“In the AIL you have to learn, Con at the start of the season, I think four-point wins were the biggest margin wins in the first six matches. It was a good learning from it. You go in with the expectation that there might be massive margins, but it opened my eyes that those games are so tight.
“It brought a different style of rugby, it was week-in, week-out, trying to get those performances, which happily and luckily (came).
“It was unbelievable learning. As a 10, game-time is everything and through Aidan (Moynihan) being unlucky with injury, it’s helped me really push on in terms of game management and getting those wins when it is a tight match and poor weather.”
If it’s steering the best players in the country around the pitch at U20 level or helping Con to the summit of the 1A table, Crowley has embraced the new experiences which have come his way this season.
The latest instalment came on Thursday when the Ireland U20s took part in a training session with Andy Farrell’s seniors in Cork – another opportunity to soak up as much knowledge as he possibly can.
“Massive learning,” Crowley replied to a question on what he received from the experience.
“Coming up against Johnny Sexton and Ross Byrne. Even talking to them, understanding learnings from them. It’s just an unbelievable competitive atmosphere that you’re training against Irish seniors and you can learn so much from them. By doing that, you can have the highest standards. Other teams in the U20s campaign might not have that opportunity so we’re lucky to have this unbelievable opportunity to train against seniors. Massive learnings from it is what we took.”
Crowley speaks with such assuredness and clarity that it’s easy to forget he is only 20. He’s keen to learn as much as he can and willing to get advice if he needs it. This is illustrated by an occasion last September when Crowley was able to get the thoughts of one of this country’s greatest out-halves, Ronan O’Gara.
“It was pre World Cup, he was doing a talk with Donal Lenihan, [Stephen] Larkham and [Johann] van Graan. I just met up with him, it was interesting talking to him. I spoke to him about more 10 specific in terms of kicking. Obviously, he’s kicked in high-pressure games and stuff. His mentality going into games and how he prepared. It was obviously unbelievable to talk to someone of his calibre and he’s a coach now so he has a different aspect of the game as well as just being a player. It was really beneficial.”
Crowley also discussed how O’Gara offered him advice when deciding whether his future lay at fullback or at out-half:
“So obviously at the time, with Munster As, I was a fullback. I played a few games at fullback and he just asked me where I wanted to play and I said I wanted to be a 10.
“He spoke about the main things; the game management, having that kicking side to your game and now such a huge part of the 10’s game is being a running 10 as well. You can’t just be an empty threat and just pass the ball on as well. They were the main things he said; game management, getting your reps through the week of kicking as he obviously did.
“They were the main points. There was nothing really unusual or different which is what probably makes a great 10 – keeping it simple. That was the main point I got off him.”
Reflecting further on the experience of lining up against Sexton, Peter O’Mahony, James Ryan et al., Crowley reveals a mantra that is instilled within this young group and one which they will no doubt rely upon when they face their next test – England at Franklin’s Gardens.
“We have a thing in the 20s that we respect all but we fear no-one and I think that’s what we’ve shown over the last few weeks and even coming up against the seniors. Obviously, it’s an unbelievable opportunity to come up against these fellas who ideally would be your peers but once you go out on the pitch you kind of almost forget, even with the Six Nations, you almost forget that you’re playing a Six Nations game, you’re just playing another game of rugby.
“You kind of go into a little bubble and you’re just playing your game and it’s only after the game really, or even after the training session today or maybe later on in the week that you realise that you were training with the seniors.”
With the amount of knowledge and experience the young 20-year-old has gained in what has been huge year in his development, you can expect Crowley to break down more barriers and continue his astonishing rise.