Few things surprise Ireland captain Johnny Sexton – he’s been there and done pretty much everything there is to do.
A veteran of 103 Tests and two British & Irish Lions tours, the 35-year-old has won the Guinness Six Nations three times so when the Leinster fly-half is caught off-guard, it must be something particularly special.
And so, to Sexton’s praise of 21-year-old scrum-half Craig Casey who made his international debut off the bench in the 62nd minute of Ireland’s 48-10 Round 3 win over Italy.
The young Munster man injected tempo and flair into an already lively Ireland line-up in an 18-minute cameo bursting with promise for the future – providing quick ball and dynamic scrum-half play.
And his captain has been quick to pile on the praise, even making comparisons with England great Jonny Wilkinson.
“Craig Casey, I didn’t know him that well obviously – I had never played with him – but his attitude is … I don’t think I have ever come across anyone – it kind of reminds me what I read about Jonny Wilkinson – that is the only person I can relate him to,” Sexton said.
“It is inspiring for the rest of the group and for someone like me, at this stage in my career, I like to be last off the pitch and I am never last off the pitch with him around. He has been brilliant.”
First called up by Andy Farrell for last year’s Guinness Six Nations, Casey only made his senior provincial debut in 2019 but has already caught the eye of many impressed onlookers.
Known for his quick passing game, speed of foot and creativity, Casey crossed the whitewash on his European club debut and has ticked every box when stepping up to each new level.
He has also displayed patience, having made no Championship appearances in 2020 and sat on the bench as the only unused replacement in Ireland’s narrow Round 2 defeat to France.
But, he is now revelling in the moment of his debut and all the comparisons which have come with it.
Casey itching for more after making senior international bow
“He said this to me a few weeks ago,” Casey said of Sexton’s praise. “I think it’s to do with obsessiveness with rugby. I’ll take that compliment. Being compared to Jonny Wilkinson, I’ll definitely take that.
“(My debut was) Everything I’ve dreamt of. It makes it a lot better to get the win so I’m delighted.
“I put it down as a goal when we went into the first lockdown: to come into the next season as an international. I came close a few weeks ago against France, but now is all the sweeter for it.
“I don’t think there was a moment… maybe after the 60th minute when we scored a try and I thought ‘yes, I’m going to make my international debut’.”