The exquisite cross field kick from Jack Crowley to Calvin Nash for the right wing to play the bounce and dink in past the Stormer’s defence for Munster’s second try was just one of several eye-catching moments from the young Munster outhalf, who must now be firmly in Andy Farrell’s sights for this year’s World Cup.
Finals, especially in hostile environments, make stressful demands but they’re also the place players come of age, or are found out. When the pressure is constantly bearing down some players retire and vanish, others grow bigger and flourish and make things happen.
With his three Irish caps, Crowley is far from experienced. But against Stormers he showed he is a player on form and maybe more importantly, is a player who has gears and can lift his game to match circumstances. Throughout the match in Cape Town, he was one of the players who showed character on the pitch, who tried to be creative and was successful at doing it.
In the 19th minute his show-and-go made Munster 40 metres into the Stormer’s territory and also drew a yellow card from them when Evan Roos blatantly ran in from the side and picked up the ball. From the penalty Crowley kicked to touch and Munster formed a lineout maul. Gavin Coombes drove over but the try disallowed for a double movement.
In the first half, when Munster were having as much as 70 per cent possession, it was Crowley varying the play, often popping up short balls for the forward runners and carriers to make hard yards, sometimes throwing long if he saw space, all the time Stormers flying up with their tackles so quickly sometimes as to be offside.
That in-your-face ability to play with a level head in the brief unforgiving moments of a Grand Final and keep Munster moving forward with shape and poise is testament to how far the 23-year-old has come.
In the physical game he showed too. Not as tall as Conor Murray, Crowley’s 6ft 1in frame was up to the Stormers hustle with their bigger players.
Crowley’s vision to see the defensive frailty in Stormers, make the decision to kick to Nash and then land the ball on a dime harked back to the game against Leinster in the semi-final, where he dropped the winning goal, again with the pressure of Robbie Henshaw charging and Ryan Baird bearing down on him from the side.
In Cape Town, he was just outside the opposition 22 and Conor Murray inside the 22 when he made the call to fall back and face to kick to his right. He didn’t have oodles of space to make the execution. While the ball took a kindly Munster bounce and the right wing was well placed to deal with it better than the cover, the vision, decision making and execution all aligned and in the end Nash’s try and Crowley’s conversion, which put Munster five points clear, made the difference.
Not a flawless performance, he slapped away the ball out of the hands of the opposing scrumhalf for a yellow card at the end of the match, but what it shows Farrell – if he doesn’t already know – is that Crowley has the temperament to take heat in the kitchen and his game will hold.