Jack Crowley enjoyed a strong debut. Tom Maher/INPHO

Crowley leaves his mark on an otherwise forgettable day at Aviva Stadium

The young out-half brought moments of quality to a poor game on his Test debut.

LAST UPDATE | 12 Nov 2022

ONE OF THE biggest cheers of the afternoon arrived early in the second half. As Joey Carbery picked himself off the floor following a heavy blow to the head, Jack Crowley stepped up to the touchline awaiting the biggest moment of his career.

At 22, the out-half was about to win his first Test cap. It’s arrived quicker than most would have expected. It’s worth highlighting again that this is a player who is probably third in line at his province, and has just 19 Munster caps to his name. Some climb the ladder, others cut the legs off it.

Crowley’s job would be to steer Ireland home across the final 35 minutes against a Fiji side they led 21-10, and enjoyed a man advantage over – Albert Tuisue sent marching for the late hit on Carbery.

His arrival briefly injected some life into a crowd who had been struggling to find their voice.

If we learned one thing today, it’s that one o’clock kick-offs just don’t suit an Irish audience. As Kalaveti Ravouvou dived over to finish a brilliant Fiji try four minutes into this Autumn Nations Series clash at Aviva Stadium, large groups of supporters were still trickling from the concourse into the stands.

They had just missed a superb score from the visitors, one that saw Fiji collect a Carbery restart and switch the ball from right to left before tearing apart an Irish side who were down numbers out wide and chasing shadows.

Lack of communication, lack of clarity, lack of familiarity. 

kalaveti-ravouvou-scores-his-sides-1st-try-of-the-game Kalaveti Ravouvou scores Fiji's opening try. Tom Maher / INPHO Tom Maher / INPHO / INPHO

It’s always a concern when you make so many changes between Tests. Nine of today’s XV didn’t start against the Springboks sevens days ago. With so many new combinations, the cohesion that has become such a strength of Farrell’s Ireland can easily fly out the window.

Throw in the short turnaround between breakfast and kick-off, and it all fed into a predictably flat occasion and an underwhelming Ireland performance.

The great shame is that this fixture had the potential to be a thoroughly enjoyable day out. For all their flaws Fiji are well able to play with ball in hand and a home crowd are always happy to get behind young players offered an opportunity to shine.

Instead, flashes of quality were overshadowed by long stoppages which did the early afternoon crowd no favours as Ireland turned in a performance littered with errors.

Most eyes will have been on five players who featured against the Maori All Blacks over the summer and were promoted to the starting side here: Jimmy O’Brien, Stuart McCloskey, Jeremy Loughman, Kieran Treadwell and Nick Timoney.

nick-timoney Nick Timoney crossed twice for Ireland in the first half. Evan Treacy / INPHO Evan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

O’Brien, fresh from a star-turn on debut against the Springboks, is one of the most interesting cases in Farrell’s squad. He has the versatility and quality to become a regular feature in the matchday 23 and had some nice touches, breaking forward with confidence during a move which led to Ireland’s third try, finished by Robert Baloucoune.

Timoney had supplied Ireland’s opening two tries; the first a finish from close range after a big carry from Treadwell, who was heavily involved and busy around the lineout.

McCloskey was perhaps the pick of the bunch in those early exchanges, driving forward in contact and getting through a tonne of work in midfield. The powerful Ulster man also helped shove the Ireland maul forward as Timoney crashed over for his second. McCloskey has had to be patient for his chances in green but has done a solid job of keeping himself in Farrell’s thoughts across this autumn window.

In the front row Loughman came in for a Test debut, and while this was never going to be day where props excelled he scrummaged well and nailed his jobs.

By the end of the opening 40 minutes, Ireland led by 11 without even fully settling into the game, despite enjoying 65% of the possession and 69% of the territory.

Then Crowley’s moment arrived as Fiji’s discipline further unravelled, Tuisue’s red followed by a second Fiji yellow card.

stuart-mccloskey-and-caelan-doris McCloskey had some good moments on the ball. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

He was soon joined by another debutant as Cian Prendergast joined the action. The Connacht man has worked hard to get to this stage and will be frustrated that one of his first acts was the needless concession of a penalty just inside the Ireland half. Costly moments when opportunites are limited.

At least Crowley was in the mood to grasp his chance. After a quiet start he began to show why Farrell has been so comfortable to move him up the out-half queue with Harry Byrne and Ciarán Frawley nursing injuries at the wrong time.

His neat pop pass amid a crowd of Fiji bodies sparked a rare wave of appreciation and reminded those in attendance there was in fact a game taking place here. Moments later he did well to receive possession and whip a pass inside under pressure. In a low-quality affair, those snippets of skills stood out all the more.

Fiji wilted, Ireland grew. Craig Casey sprinted off the back of a scrum to hand Mack Hansen an easy finish. Crowley kicked his first two points as a Test player and doubled his tally when Cian Healy added their fifth.

After Fiji hit back through Simione Kuruvoli, Crowley was at it again, delaying his pass inside to Timoney perfectly to allow the Ulster man break clear. There was something undeniably Johnny Sexton-esque about that one.

Not that it was all smooth sailing. As the game grew increasingly disjointed Ireland were wasteful in attack with numbers up and entering the final 10 minutes, with the dreaded Mexican wave working its way around the crowd – always the sign of a poor contest – Crowley sent a kick out on the full under little pressure.

It was a rare blip on a confident start to his Test career. He might have to wait for another shot but Crowley did enough today to suggest he could have a promising future in green ahead of him.

Ronan O’Gara, who previously tried to bring Crowley to La Rochelle, was one of the first to tweet out his congratulations to a fellow Munster man.

A memorable display on an otherwise utterly forgettable day in Dublin 4.

Please, no more 1pm kick-offs.  

- Updated 8pm to appear on The Journal.

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