Ireland out-half Jack Crowley. Ben Brady/INPHO
pulling the strings

Crowley puts his own stamp on Ireland's slick attacking system

Attack coach Mike Catt was impressed with how the out-half responded to some early setbacks in Marseille.

WITH 11 MINUTES on the clock at the Stade Vélodrome last Friday, Jack Crowley took possession from a Jamison Gibson-Park pass inside the France 22. The hosts were down to 14 men and Ireland looked poised to strike. Crowley had Calvin Nash running off his left shoulder with Hugo Keenan and James Lowe further wide again.

Instead Crowley opted for a grubber in behind but got the weight on his kick wrong. The ball went dead and a prime scoring opportunity went to waste. From the stands, it felt like a big moment for a 24-year-old out-half making his first Six Nations start. We waited to see how Crowley would respond.

Four minutes later Crowley was on the ball again. Ireland were approaching the France 22 and set in a promising attacking shape. The Munster player could surely see the 110kg frame of Jonathan Danty shooting up, but Crowley delayed his pass inside to James Lowe, shipping a huge hit from the France centre in the process. Three passes later, Gibson-Park was running in Ireland’s opening try.

Just before the half hour mark Crowley repeated the trick. This time it was hooker Peato Mauvaka who flattened Crowley as his delayed pass inside sent Tadhg Beirne through for Ireland’s second try.

It was turning into an excellent night for Crowley, and from there things only got better, the Munster 10 growing into the game and shaking off a few early errors with a composed, confident performance – while landing six of seven kicks at goal.

It’s exactly what Andy Farrell and his coaching team want to see from their players – park the mistakes, drive on and continue to express yourself. Even though things didn’t quite go Crowley’s way in the early stages, he backed himself to nail the next moments and put his mark on the game.

“It’s something Andy has been driving over the past number of years,” says attack coach Mike Catt.

“It’s ‘don’t get in the way of yourself, don’t worry about it. It’s gone’. For a man with inexperience, to block it out like that is very good. Nothing fazes him, like a lot of the boys in the team.”

It also helps to frame the moments that don’t go your way in the right light, with that early grubber a good example. While many would see that kick as an error, Catt views it differently.

“It’s more execution, really, the decision was right but for me – the question you’re asking is: ‘Was it the right decision? Yes. So, why didn’t we execute it properly’.

“It’s about seeing it, he saw it and reacted to it and put the kick in but the kick wasn’t (accurate), so that sort of stuff is what we would go to.

“It’s understanding it. It’s something we’ve done a lot of, making sure the players understand the why and how we do it and understand when it’s gone wrong.

“And, when it does go wrong it’s what is the solution and how quickly are you able to change it so that next time I’m in that situation I’m not going to make the same mistake again.

I think that’s the sign of an ordinary player to a top international player.”

If anything, those early setbacks only added to Crowley’s performance on the night. Where other players may have closed up and played more conservative, he kept playing the game his way – attacking flat to the line and always looking for ways to open up a French defence who were clearly targeting Ireland’s young new 10.

It was a fine start to what is an important campaign for Crowley, as he looks to firmly assert himself as the heir to Johnny Sexton.

The Munster player is no stranger to Irish camp but with just 10 international caps to his name he is still relatively new to the Test stage. The 38-17 victory in Marseille represented just his fourth Test start and that he handled the step up so impressively says as much about Ireland’s attacking systems as it does his own skillset.

“Not just Jack, but people like Calvin Nash and Joe McCarthy, Jack’s been around for us for a while now and same with Frawls, it’s not new for him,” Catt says.

“When you’ve got good players around you, the likes of your Bundees [Aki], Caelans [Doris], Petes [O'Mahony] and those guys; to slot in and do a role that you’ve been doing for a while now and fully understand, then it’s relatively easy to do.

“We still haven’t seen the best out of Jack, there’s still a lot more to go, but it’s not a bad start.”

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