All good things must come to an end.
Having been an ever-present for Ireland since 2009, becoming the country’s all-time leading points scorer in the process, the curtain has come down on Johnny Sexton’s glittering career.
The Dubliner has been the epitome of consistency in the number 10 jersey for Ireland but now the Boys in Green must plan for life without their long-time talisman.
All of which raises the question – who will become Ireland’s next fly-half? We look at the players in contention.
Fans, pundits and online betting sites will all point towards Munster’s current number 10 as the man most likely to replace Sexton.
What’s clear to many is that despite still only being 23, Crowley has the class and charisma to fill Sexton’s boots and, also, the mentality for the big games.
Crowley got the nod at fly-half in the Rugby World Cup warm-up matches against Italy and Samoa and was also given game-time in the tournament itself, coming off the bench to kick four conversions and set up two tries against Romania. We also saw him earn minutes in the victories against South Africa and Scotland.
Before seemingly winning the approval of Andy Farrell, Crowley played a pivotal role in helping Munster win the United Rugby Championship (URC) in May, contributing with a decisive drop goal in the semi-final against victory against Leinster and then excelling in the final against the Stormers in Cape Town as Munster defied the odds to win their first trophy since 2011.
For all the latest odds and to find out where you can bet on the 2023/24 URC, check out this United Rugby Championship betting guide.
Sexton’s heir at Leinster, Ross Byrne, is in the running to replace him at international level too. Ask the vast majority of Irish rugby fans and they’ll speak highly of Bryne’s excellent kicking game and strong leadership skills whenever he has turned out for club or country.
He earned many plaudits for his cameo performance in the 2023 Six Nations game against France when he replaced the injured Sexton. Bryne also proved his qualities as he filled in for Sexton and helped Leinster reach the Heineken Champions Cup Final.
Having already stepped up to the plate and replaced Sexton at club level, Bryne is the most logical option to take the reins at ten, at least in the short term.
However, Farrell’s reluctance to give the Leinster out-half more starts and playing time for Ireland thus far suggests he is, as yet, not convinced.
Not long ago, Carberry was touted as the natural successor to Sexton. But a combination of injuries and a loss of form has resulted in the Munster fly-half almost becoming the forgotten man.
Farrell chose to omit Carberry from his 2023 Six Nations squad and didn’t come close to being selected for the World Cup. Graham Rowntree also left Carbery out of the Munster squad for the United Rugby Championship victory over arch-rivals, Leinster.
While the reason for Carbery’s stock falling so dramatically is unclear, the consensus that injuries have taken their toll is fair to assume. All the while, his Munster team-mate, Crowley, and Bryne are consistently proving themselves on the biggest stage.
Rowntree presented Carbery with a rare starting berth in the first match of Munster’s defence of the URC with Crowley rested following Ireland’s World Cup exploits. But Carbery’s latest injury is likely to put him out of the picture for both club and country for a considerable time, all but ending any hopes he had of succeeding Sexton.
Worth a mention but unlikely to get the call..
Sam Prendergast – The Leinster man is uncapped and is perhaps too young and inexperienced to fill such a big void at this moment in time. However, Prendergast was a prominent figure in helping Ireland Under 20’s win the Grand Slam in the U20 Six Nations and is certainly a future full international.
Jack Carty – The Connacht outhalf last played for Ireland in 2022 which suggests he isn’t out of the reckoning completely. However, at 31, Carty is unlikely to be the one Farell builds his team around, especially given the availability of younger and hungrier Irish fly-halves.
Billy Burns -With his last cap coming in 2021, a call-up for the Ulster man would be a surprise. Burns was given the chance to stake a claim to be Sexton’s back-up in 2020 but many Irish fans will recall Burns fluffing his lines against Wales in the 2021 Six Nations, which effectively ended his international career before it had got going.