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Ciarán Frawley's promising showing at 10 bodes well for Ireland's options

The 24-year-old Leinster man delivered a composed display in tough conditions in Wellington.

Andy Farrell with Ciarán Frawley.
Andy Farrell with Ciarán Frawley.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Updated Jul 12th 2022, 8:00 PM

ON A NASTY night in Wellington, Andy Farrell wanted his halfbacks to be solid.

And that’s exactly what Craig Casey and Ciarán Frawley delivered in an impressively compact, tidy Irish performance as they beat the Māori All Blacks to maintain the momentum of last weekend’s second Test win over New Zealand.

Casey’s next job is to push past Conor Murray for Munster’s number nine shirt and the back-up spot to Jamison Gibson-Park at Test level.

What happens with Leinster man Frawley next season? It will be fascinating to see after his two starts at out-half for Ireland against the Māori on this tour of New Zealand. 

This wasn’t originally the plan. Harry Byrne had been pencilled in as the number 10 for the two midweek games, Farrell having long been a fan of the 23-year-old Leinster man’s potential. But Byrne’s tour was over before it really began, a hamstring injury forcing him home.

And so Frawley moved from probable starts at number 12 into the hot seat at out-half. This was his position coming through with Skerries RFC and initially with Leinster. He has played at fullback too but found a home at inside centre over the last two seasons.

Many of those who know him best believe out-half is his best position and so, would have been delighted to see Frawley get chances there for Ireland on this tour.

irelands-ciaran-frawley Frawley has had two starts at 10 on Ireland's tour.

His first outing was a tricky one as Ireland came off a clear second-best to the Māori in a tough defeat two weeks ago. Frawley had some good moments but made several errors too. It was a frustrating learning experience.

His second outing was much more assured. There was nothing too flashy but this wasn’t the evening for the glamour. Farrell will have been encouraged by Frawley’s composed management of the game alongside Casey.

Frawley had a busy evening defensively, making 13 tackles. Standing 6ft 3ins tall and weighing in at around 100kg, Frawley is a solid unit and has genuine appetite to be involved in defence – something he shares with Johnny Sexton.

Below, Frawley brings excellent linespeed to shut down the possibility of the Māori shifting the ball wide to their left.

linespeed

Frawley makes his tackle low down on lock Isaia Walker-Leawere to complete a big defensive win for Ireland.

And in similar fashion to Sexton, we get a glimpse of Frawley looking for a choke tackle turnover with Stuart McCloskey in the instance below.

choke

Like any player, Frawley would have loved to be at 100% success rate in the tackle but ‘missed tackle’ stats are misleading in some cases.

Take this example from the first half. As the Māori break down the right-hand side, watch the very top left of the clip below.

miss1

Frawley is breaking into a sprint in his retreat from the far side of the pitch, recognising the threat to Ireland’s tryline.

Seconds later after the Kiwis offload inside, it’s Frawley who is in position to slow TJ Perenara down when he would otherwise probably have scored a try. It’s a crucial ‘missed tackle.’

miss2

This kind of effort is something that coaches and team-mates appreciate. 

Frawley’s defensive hunger and size have made life in the number 12 shirt much more comfortable for him, while his athleticism also makes him a ball-carrying threat.

That applies when he’s at 10 too. It’s always hugely beneficial to a team when their out-half is a threat to the defence himself. Defenders have to respect the possibility of a dart with ball in hand rather than just reading off the 10 early.

Against the Māori, Frawley made six carries as he demonstrated his willingness to go at the line.

Carry

Above, Frawley throws a dummy before accelerating, tucking the ball into his right hand, and firing up a fend to help him burst well over the gainline.

With the wet weather, it wasn’t an evening for Ireland’s attack to flow all that much.

Still, Frawley showed glimpses of being able to organise and slot into Ireland’s familiar attacking shape, which has caused the Kiwis big problems at times in recent weeks.

Below, Frawley is connected out the back of Ireland’s three-man pod, taking a link pass from Gavin Coombes before shifting the ball to Jordan Larmour.

shape

Frawley made six passes over the course of the evening in Wellington.

Naturally enough, there was a fair degree of kicking in Ireland’s game plan and they benefitted from sharing the workload across the backline in this regard.

Casey kicked eight times, Larmour five times, Mike Lowry four times, Frawley four times, and Jimmy O’Brien three times. Back row Cian Prendergast also chipped in with a kick to touch after Ireland scrambled back into their own 22.

The kick below showed Frawley’s ability to identify space in the backfield and was remarkably similar to one of Sexton’s kicks in the second Test against the All Blacks.

CornerkickTO

Frawley’s kick leaves opposite number Josh Ioane in a very tough spot in the corner. Though Ioane beats the first-up chase, Ireland win a penalty at the ensuing breakdown to give themselves a shot at mauling over from five metres.

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Below, we get an example of the length of Frawley’s kicking game as he blasts the ball clear of his own 22 after a lineout steal from Kieran Treadwell.

KickLong1

Frawley then shows good work-rate to be at the forefront of the Irish chase, tackling Josh Moorby to allow Coombes a shot at the breakdown turnover.

KickLong2

The ball bobbles out the Māori side of the breakdown and Frawley dives down on it to complete the Irish turnover, although he should be penalised in this instance as players cannot flop down on the emerging ball like this within a metre of the breakdown.

KickLong3

Nonetheless, the passage shows Frawley’s sheer desire to make an impact whether in attack, defence, or the kicking game.

The Cake Tin in Wellington is a notoriously windy stadium and it was no different for this game, but Frawley did well to slot four of his six shots at goal.

Placekick

All in all, Frawley has reason to be pleased with his second outing in an Ireland jersey.

He remains uncapped due to the Māori games not having Test status but it is pleasing for the Skerries man to now be truly in the mix for Ireland. He could even push his way into the matchday 23 for this weekend’s third Test depending on how Farrell opts to select his bench.

Frawley was born in Sydney and it’s understood that Rugby Australia have expressed an interest in him but he extended his contract with Leinster into next season. His objective is to play for Ireland for years to come.

Joey Carbery has been the clear back-up option for Sexton whenever available but Farrell would love to have someone else genuinely pushing in this slot.

Back at his province, it will be intriguing to see how things pan out for Frawley. Sexton, Ross Byrne, and Harry Byrne made up the out-half pecking order this season, with just one of Frawley’s 14 starts coming in the number 10 shirt.

Leinster have also added Ireland U20 international out-halves Sam Prendergast and Charlie Tector to their academy ahead of next season, but Frawley remains a multi-skilled option at number 10.

With Kiwi inside centre Charlie Ngatai having joined the province to provide another superb option at number 12, Frawley may find himself featuring more often at out-half even if the competition is strong.

His versatility is undoubtedly a positive looking ahead to the World Cup next year as Ireland boss Farrell looks to narrow his options down to a 33-man squad.

Whether it’s at 10, 12, or 15, it feels like this tour is just the beginning for Frawley with Ireland.

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Murray Kinsella

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