Munster's late season push in the URC - all the way to the champions podium - has caught many by surprise. In Ireland's Grand Slam, Andy Farrell's starting XV and training squad were dominated by Leinster players. As the dust settles on the rugby season and the 2023 Rugby World Cup starts to take shape on the horizon, it's only fair to ask how many Munster players have played their way into the reckoning of Andy Farrell as he plots a path for Ireland ahead of what history tells us is our quadrennial heartache.
Farrell named a 42-man training squad this week did not include the likes of Jean Kleyn, Jeremy Loughman or John Hodnett, all three of whom have been massive for Munster in the business end of the season. Farrell instead opted for players he knows.
One Munster player who vastly enhanced his reputation over the past month was Jack Crowley. From the drop goal that torpedoed Leinster to the wonderful chip that set up Munster's second try in Cape Town to the massive conversion after Hodnett's try to bring the lead to 5, Crowley proved he has the appetite for the big occasion in numerous way this month.
All of which sets up an intriguing discussion as we head into silly season, and most likely the selection debate that will dominate the summer should major injury be avoided: who is Ireland's second out half? Ross Byrne had seemingly claimed the role as Johnny Sexton's deputy with assured performances in November and the Six Nations, but the nature of Leinster's collapse against La Rochelle was worrying for all involved.
Meanwhile, this past month, Crowley has built a highlight reel.
Ronan O'Gara weighs in on Ireland outhalf debate
It was interesting to see Ronan O'Gara make a contribution to this debate in essential Examiner column today.
In the eyes of the La Rochelle coach, Crowley has overtaken Byrne in the outhalf pecking order.
Because of what Crowley did against Leinster at the Aviva, because of how he played in a final, in an away setting in Cape Town, his development has been accelerated. We are no longer in a 50-50 conversation on the back up to Sexton.
We're not so sure it's as definitive in the mind of Andy Farrell. Byrne has five years of experience on his rival and has been faultless when called upon. Sexton's injury also gave Byrne plenty of big game experience this spring, in which he did not disappoint, up until the Champions Cup final anyway. O'Gara also mentions that Crowley is hurt by the season ending now, when he's clearly in terrific form. Farrell's training squad suggests familiarity and cohesion will be his guiding principles ahead of heading to France, and we imagine it will be similar with squad selection. And that makes sense. Ireland are atop the world rankings and haven't lost a Test match in 12 months.
It's a fascinating debate and those August warm-up games will likely serve as audition for that 22 jersey. We now know where ROG stands on the issue.