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Nathan Doak and Jack Crowley.
# half backs
Crowley and Doak show their class for Emerging Ireland
The half-backs led the way in Friday’s 54-7 defeat of the Griquas.

LAST UPDATE | Oct 1st 2022, 12:02 PM

THE EMERGING IRELAND squad made a positive start to their three-game tour of South Africa with yesterday’s 54-7 hammering of the Griquas in Bloemfontein, a game in which the young half-back pairing of Nathan Doak and Jack Crowley shone for the tourists.

Crowley, 22, and Doak, 20, both look to have big futures ahead of them and this game against admittedly disappointing opposition was another reminder of their potential.

After a slow start, Emerging Ireland soon settled into the contest and after building a strong lead through some good work from the pack, in the second half their backline ignited to punch for a series of well-executed tries. It was impressive stuff from a group who only gathered as a squad one week previously.

“We came together last Friday and within seven days… I think it’s a credit to the coaches, first of all to be able to create that environment to be able to be ourselves and come in and gel that quickly,” says Crowley.

“Without that connection, you can’t go out onto the pitch and perform. Secondly for the players, the effort from all the lads to buy into team culture and environment was the most important thing.”

Crowley was arguably the stand-out performer against a limited Griquas team.

The out-half debuted for Munster in January 2021 and kicked on with the province last season, adding five starts and seven substitute appearances to his CV.  

jack-crowley-takes-a-kick Steve Haag / INPHO Crowley was superb off the tee. Steve Haag / INPHO / INPHO

At Toyota Stadium the 22-year-old forced Griquas defenders to commit and open up space in behind, while he also made good use of the boot, producing a lovely grubber to send Shane Daly over while missing just one from seven off the tee.

“To be honest, I recognised last year that my kicking game definitely needed to come on,” Crowley explains.

“I felt I had the element of attacking rugby but there is just that consistency within my kick that I knew I needed to get to if I want to be playing at the top level.

“So, I just tried putting the work in, reached out to people and put the work in. But also, it’s down to the coaches in Munster, the coaches here, giving you that freedom. They back you if it’s the right decision.

As a player, that’s the best thing ever. The ownership is on you to go out and execute and if you don’t, then it’s on you to work on that skill. When you see those things, you just gotta take them. Fortunately that came off today.”

He was helped by the presence of another calm head beside him, with Ulster scrum-half Doak also producing a controlled, assertive display.

“He’s sitting here now so I better say good things about him,” continues Crowley, glancing past the laptop in the direction of his half-back partner in a room somewhere underneath the Toyota Stadium.

“He’s incredibly calm, you can see there in the game. As a 10 having that inside you, you can just give the ownership to him, particularly on exits. And then in attack you trust him and with that connection he knows that when I call for it I want it, and he did that today and found me.” 

nathan-doak-makes-a-pass Steve Haag / INPHO Nathan Doak in action against the Griquas. Steve Haag / INPHO / INPHO

Doak enjoyed a strong season with Ulster last year, racking up 25 caps for the province. This year, he’ll look to push John Cooney even harder.

It’s a big season for Doak, and the scrum-half explains how he’s looking to grow his game in a bid to take that next step in his development.

“Personally, I always set a target for myself to enjoy my rugby,” Doak explains.

“I feel like when I enjoy my rugby I play my best and that’s my number one target (this season).

Then going off the back of that I want to improve my running game. I haven’t played scrum-half that long and it’s something that maybe some guys have an edge on with me. Being in this environment, I feel I have the opportunity to do that and it’s something I’d like to build on, but it’s just about being myself, doing my basics well and helping the team.”

Against the Griquas he again showed why he is so highly rated by both the Ulster and Ireland coaching teams, keeping a cool head in the face of early Griquas pressure before helping his team grab control of the contest, making smart decisions in possession and keeping the tempo in Ireland’s play.

“It’s frustrating when we don’t have the ball, but it’s about staying calm, staying together and being patient,” he adds.

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“I don’t think we did that to the best of our abilities, we seemed to give a bit of discipline away, got a yellow card but we’ll learn from that as a group. 

“Coming into next week, hopefully we can build on our attack, hold on to ball a bit more, see a bit more phase shape and score some more tries.”

With one game under their belt, it’s been a promising start to this opinion-splitting tour for the Emerging Ireland squad.

Next up it’s the Pumas on Wednesday, and while they should provide a better challenge, this group will be confident of delivering another strong performance. 

And after producing such a connected, cohesive display against the Griquas, Crowley explains how the common goal has taken precedence over any individual ambitions on this tour.

“To be honest, there’s nothing really being said to us personally about what to go out and do, it’s very much about those connections in the team, and we’ve made it very much a thing about us as a team, connecting really quickly within a week and being able to turn around a performance like that.

“I think it was everybody looking after their own role, learn your role to the best of your ability and that will make the player inside and outside of you look good.

“That was my job out there, it wasn’t to try and force anything. Just do my job as a 10, and luckily getting service off Doaky and the pack, the carries they are giving you for go-forward ball allows you as a 10 to just sit in the pocket and pick those options.

“It’s every individual learning their roles to the best of their ability and that allows others to look good. So it’s credit to the boys for learning as quickly as possible, and then also the coaches for giving us that platform.”

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