CRAIG CASEY ONLY got around four minutes on the pitch at the end of Munster’s win over Connacht in Thomond Park but even in that short space of time, the 20-year-old scrum-half managed to show his combative side.
Connacht were pressuring Munster with a series of scrums five metres out from the home team’s tryline until Casey took advantage of poor control at the base of the set-piece and dove onto the ball for a turnover.
20-year-old Casey made his debut off the bench on Saturday. Source: James Crombie/INPHO
The Shannon RFC man, making his debut for Munster, was back on his feet a phase later to kick the ball into touch to signal the end of his side’s 27-14 victory.
The Ireland U20 international didn’t even get a chance to show another major strength of his game by throwing a pass, but the likelihood is that this was only the first glimpse of a player who has a big future with Munster.
Named academy player of the year at the province’s recent awards night, Casey was an important figure in the Ireland U20s winning a Grand Slam this year and he will be one of the players to watch at the World Rugby U20 Championship in Argentina in June.
Casey, who came through Ardscoil Rís, was only involved against Connacht last weekend due to Conor Murray’s late withdrawal through injury, meaning Neil Cronin leaped from the bench into the starting XV.
Fortunately for Casey, he was with Munster on Saturday in order to gain experience of a match day – underlining how highly head coach Johann van Graan rates the halfback.
“He did brilliantly,” said van Graan. “It was just right place at the right time – we don’t normally carry a nine as our extra player. Craig is such a great talent. I said to him during the week that I’d like him to come for the captain’s run and the day of the game.
Casey was named Munster academy player of the year. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
“I’ve done the same with [academy players] Keynan Knox and Jack O’Sullivan earlier in the year. It was the right time at the right place.
“His eyes just lit up when I said to him, ‘Are you ready?’ It’s brilliant to get your first game like that. He didn’t have to think about it too much, just got straight in and it was great to get him onto the field.”
Van Graan also reserved a special mention for Cronin, who stepped into the number nine shirt in Murray’s absence.
The Munster boss felt the Garryowen man “was close to being our best player on the day.”
It will be interesting to track Casey’s development with Munster next season, particularly having been named academy player of the year. Fineen Wycherley claimed that award last season and has gone on to make an impact at senior level in the current campaign.
Casey has already demonstrated great resilience in his young career, having been sidelined for around 14 months through knee and back injuries after joining the Munster academy in 2017.
Casey training against Joe Schmidt’s Ireland during the Six Nations. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO
He is steeped in Shannon rugby, with his father, Ger, having been part of the club’s coaching staff when they won the 2009 All-Ireland League, while former Shannon and Munster back Mossy Lawler is his uncle.
Casey’s performances in the U20 Six Nations certainly excited supporters, with the scrum-half scoring two tries in his three starts, as well as making one of the most memorable tackles of the campaign.
A strong leader who captained Ardscoil Rís’ Senior Cup team in his time at the school, Casey is also one of the Ireland U20 vice-captains.
Munster fans interested in his potential will be watching closely in Argentina in June, when Casey may well add to the excitement about his future with the southern province.
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