Grenoble’s Chris Farrell looking forward to Connacht clash

Ulster-born centre relishing the chance to pit his wits against Robbie Henshaw

Grenoble’s  Chris Farrell: “I guess I see it as a challenge and maybe an opportunity to put my name in people’s minds in Ireland.” Photograph: Jean Pierre Clarot/AFP/Getty

Grenoble’s Chris Farrell: “I guess I see it as a challenge and maybe an opportunity to put my name in people’s minds in Ireland.” Photograph: Jean Pierre Clarot/AFP/Getty

 

As one of three Irish players on the Grenoble squad with James Harte and Denis Coulson, living in the Alps can sometimes be home away from home for Chris Farrell. The former Campbell College and Ulster centre has had one of his better streaks this season courtesy of an injury-free run in the Top 14.

That alone has opened the eyes of the 23-year-old to bigger things and this weekend Irish eyes will be on him more than ever, not least of all because of a match up with Robbie Henshaw.

The two know each other well as half a dozen or so years ago they were the centre pairing on the Irish U-18 team, Farrell then taking the Ulster to Grenoble route with a spell of injuries along the way and Henshaw continuing to build a reputation in Galway.

“Yeah at Under-18 me and Robbie played together, centre partners,” he says. “So I know Robbie well. I haven’t kept in touch but it will be good to catch up with him. He’s obviously gone on to bigger and better things . . .

An opportunity

Farrell knows all about Connacht but he acknowledges their profile is low around the French town even though the clubs met in the 2005 Challenge Cup quarter-finals when Connacht won both legs.

“Connacht definitely have a low profile. That’s not to say people aren’t aware of them especially this year with their results in the Pro12,” he says. “They have a really good record in Europe and France so I don’t think any of us are taking anything for granted no matter how small the profile might be.”

The city of Grenoble gets up for a matches like these in the same way locals gather around the football or hurling teams in Ireland on the day of a championship game. With a population of less than 200,000, it’s big enough to be a city but still has a local feel.

Currently just below mid-table in the Top14 and facing heavyweights such as Montpellier, Clermont, Racing and Toulon week to week, the Challenge Cup is their best opportunity to play in the higher Champions Cup next season.

“It’s a small city but everybody here lives for rugby,” he says. “No matter where you are or what you are doing you always see FCG, Grenoble signs or Grenoble flags in the backs of cars, everywhere but particularly in days after games or weeks after games, especially if we have big wins at home. You walk around the town and you get a lot of recognition of what you have done. They are massive supporters of rugby.”

The first choice outside centre, Farrell’s 6ft5in’ frame comes in at over 100 kg. That gives him certain benefits, especially against the imports from the bigger clubs.

But coach Bernard Jackman and especially backs coach Mike Prendergast have the team trying to play ball, knowing the limitations of bashing into larger South Africans and Kiwis.

“It’s definitely very physical in the Top14 and it (size) may help a little bit,” says farrell. “But we have a team who don’t necessarily make the most of size. We haven’t exactly got a Montpellier who have 16 South Africans in their squad who use that power game and just try and win gain line, gain line.

Dark horse

Last year Jackman had Farrell pencilled in as a dark horse for World Cup selection. The world has moved on since but there are ambitions. Although his Grenoble contract is up in just over a year from now, he’s inn a rich vein of form and far from desperate for a move.

“I think this year has been a massive step up for me because of how consistent I’ve been . . .performing consistently but also consistently free from injuries. That’s hugely important.

“It has definitely allowed me to become more comfortable, more at home with where I am in my position and more aware of what’s coming week after week because I have been there and done that. It’s a lot better.

“I’m purely focused on here because this is where I’m playing well. If nothing is broken then why change it. This is where I will consider first.”

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