Chris Farrell gets to grips with physical shock of Test rugby

Ulster centre grew into his debut after bruising start against Fiji


It’s often the way for a debutant – a kaleidoscope of images; the game played a breakneck pace, sucking oxygen into the lungs hoping that for some sort of physical equilibrium and that the body will adjust.

Chris Farrell won his first cap for Ireland and admitted that despite assiduous preparation that is a given with any Joe Schmidt-coached team, he still wasn’t prepared for the physical shock of Test rugby.

That came in the gargantuan form of Fijian centre cum backrow forward, Levani Botia. “I think it was getting lined up by Botia at a lineout I think. The physicality shook me a few times. I do not shy away from that if possible,” Farrell smiled.

He certainly didn’t, tidying up several unpromising situations, by taking responsibility and the physical hammering that was in the offing. A native of Fivemiletown on the Tyrone-Fermanagh border he left the Ulster academy for a senior contract at Grenoble and last summer after earning hugely valuable experience in the French Top 14 took up an offer from Munster to return to Ireland.

During his playing hiatus in France, Schmidt kept in touch. Farrell explained: “Throughout the years I kept in contact with Joe and other people in Ireland. He was helpful, he reviewed a few of my games during my time over there and gave me a few things to work on. And it will be no different after this week there will be a lot of work-ons and a lot of stuff to look back over on Monday morning.

“It was a detour to get here, I had to go to France and back, it was always in my goals to come back and get a chance to play at this level and thankfully that was the case. I have that now and hopefully can build on it as one cap is nothing so hopefully I can put in a few more performances.

“I was very young at the time [going to France] and it was purely to get game time and gain experience, build and grow as a player. Then I’d come back home, step up to this level, that was always my view and I was always going to come back.”

His midfield partner Stuart McCloskey was winning a second cap and there wasn’t a large body of playing experience as a pair for them to draw on; one game to be precise for Dungannon several years ago. Farrell said: “I guess it helped, I know Stuart quite well but we never played together at Ulster. We played maybe once at club level. It was really difficult out there, it was more difficult than I ever thought it was going to be and it was a really shock to the system.

“We bonded well and had a few nice phases together but we also lost a few balls together. When we came in at half-time there were 11 turnovers against us [the team] and that is not the standards we drive. That is the kind of thing that changes games, losing balls in key areas, and whenever you can’t put phases together because you can’t look after the ball, that is going to hurt you.”

What disappointed him most? “It has to be looking after our own ball. We got beaten in the air a few times – I will look back at that. It is all about our breakdown, our body fight on the ground, players with the ball, without the ball, going into contact we were not up to our usual standards.

“I do not think normally Ireland would lose 11 balls or have 11 turnovers in a full game, so to have that in the first half is really probably upsetting in a way. In the second half it did not really change, we did not fix that, we came out and lost more balls I do not know what the total was. That will be the main focus come Monday.”

Schmidt told them to keep playing. “It is great when a coach does that and backs you to use your skills and play expansively but we just didn’t look after the ball when we got into those areas and that is the disappointing thing.

“It makes it extra special we had to ground it out and had to work really hard for it. We talked during the week that their individuals on paper were good enough to beat us if they were on their form but we always said our collective would look after their individuals and beat them; we didn’t show that throughout the whole performance but in the end we ground it out.”

He was then asked to sum up the experience of the day and what stood out. “It was amazing I cannot describe the feeling when I was walking out to the pitch and the fireworks were going off; even in the Shelbourne [hotel], I was getting emotional walking out and getting onto the bus. I definitely want more at some stage.”

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