Jack Crowley believes Johnny Sexton’s remarkable longevity has blazed a trail for Ireland’s aspiring fly-halves rather than impeded their international opportunities.

Captain Sexton has been his country’s first-choice number 10 for more than a decade and begun his Rugby World Cup swansong in record-breaking fashion.

The influential 38-year-old has already surpassed Ronan O’Gara as Ireland’s all-time leading points scorer and John Hayes as the nation’s oldest international since arriving in France as he heads towards retirement.

Crowley is among the pretenders to the throne and feels Sexton continues to show his positional rivals what is possible as opposed to obstructing the path to Test caps.

“I think he’s not blocked it but opened it up to show the possibilities,” said the 23-year-old, who is in line to provide back-up from the bench in Saturday’s Pool B showdown with South Africa.

“Even at 38, to show to youngsters his skills and the dedication he puts into his game, it can go a long way and he’s showing the youngsters in Ireland what’s possible if you apply yourself to your prep and put everything into the game.

“I think for every youngster around Ireland he’s really carving the way, particularly for young out-halves. He’s the fella that’s leading the way.”

Crowley has leapfrogged Munster team-mate Joey Carbery in the pecking order at Test level to become one of Sexton’s World Cup understudies, alongside Ross Byrne.

He only made his international debut last autumn and has kicked 27 points across seven caps, including eight in Ireland’s tournament opener against Romania.

Crowley hopes to follow in the footsteps of Sexton and O’Gara but concedes he has plenty to do to be held in similar esteem.

“Look, they’re sporting greats for Ireland and for a reason because of the many years they put into the Irish jersey,” he said.

“So, for me I’ve a long way to go to reach that level.

“But they’re great people to have around and I’m sure any youngster would be looking up and trying to aspire to be them.”

Ireland can secure progression to the World Cup quarter-finals with victory over the Springboks in Paris following bonus-point wins over Romania and Tonga.

Crowley is well aware of the dangers posed by the reigning world champions, having faced South Africa’s leading club sides in the United Rugby Championship.

He helped his province claim the URC title in May with a 19-14 Cape Town success over a Stormers team containing the likes of Damian Willemse, Manie Libbok, Frans Malherbe and Steven Kitshoff.

“First of all getting the opportunity to play in those games and getting exposed to that type of situation is something every player wants to be able to grow,” he said.

“A world-class side like them, their front five is massive for scrum and maul, but the pace and the footwork that they have out wide and the passing and kicking ability, we’ve seen it coming up against them in the URC.

“You can see the quality they have across the back line in terms of individual skill. That’s going to be a challenge in one way and also it’s going to be a bonus for them.”

2023-09-20T09:29:17Z dg43tfdfdgfd