Chris Farrell happy to adapt and switch as long as he plays
Power the Munster man offers can be a vital asset for Ireland going forward
Ireland’s Chris Farrell takes on Huw Jones and Sam Johnson of Scotland during the Six Nations clash at Murrayfield. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images
Nobody can complain about the Ireland midfield. Garry Ringrose, presumably, owns the 13 jersey despite the 24-year-old needing time to heal after his best performances (see England game). Same goes for Robbie Henshaw, while Chris Farrell has been cursed by injury. Bundee Aki remains the most durable Irish centre, perhaps in the entire professional era, but the power offered by Farrell increasingly needs accommodation in the starting XV.
His presence at inside centre could provide the ideal foil to Ringrose’s gliding abilities. When every other combination has been looked at, Farrell warms to the idea.
“I can play 12. I haven’t played 12 in a long time. I played 12 when I was in the Top 14 a bit for Grenoble. That’s the position I played all through my development and in the academy for Ulster, right up until I left for France. I feel like I’d be very comfortable there. I feel like I could give it a go.”
Gifted in different ways, Farrell dismisses an idea of a rivalry with Ringrose.
“We’re definitely not at each other’s throats! There’s things that I can learn from Garry, massively. Likewise, the other side of it. We work well. Because I’ve been playing 13 most of the time I can switch in when he’s out and the same for him. We haven’t had an awful lot of games together, and likewise last season in the Six Nations he was injured right up until the point I got injured and then he came in. We haven’t had the opportunity to play together and train together as much as we’d like.”
Farrell created the platform for Jacob Stockdale’s try by powering Ireland over the gainline. Arguably, he is more effective in this regard than Aki and Henshaw. He’s bigger, see.
A revelation since landing in Munster from Grenoble despite the lost year after snapping knee ligaments, former Ulster teammates remember the quality of his pass as a teenager.
“It is hugely frustrating to watch him play, and play so well for Munster,” Rory Best admitted on Friday. “He was always a big man but probably not the size he is now.”
That strikes you in Farrell’s presence. The 25-year-old fills his 110kg frame, seeming taller than 6ft 3in.There is plenty to him.
“He is a really good guy to have around the group,” said Best. “Even when he left us as a relative unknown. Good guy to spend a bit of time with. And that’s probably got even better with his experiences over in France and now down at Munster.”
Eleven years his senior, Best did not need to praise the man’s character. But he did.
Joe Schmidt was also compelled to mention his alternative option – Robbie Henshaw being the starting 13 until failing to train last Thursday – despite being asked to assess the performances of others. The coach wanted to talk about Farrell.
“A lot of guys are changing,” said Schmidt. “Chris Farrell did really well. I know a few things went astray around Chris but I thought he did incredibly well because Robbie was in and out on Tuesday, we were hopeful and again on Thursday we were hopeful with that dead leg.
“Chris had to step in at reasonably short notice, and I thought he did a sterling job. That gives us huge confidence and it gives players around him huge confidence that he can step in for us as he did.”
Unprompted showering praise from captain and coach, we must be dealing with a special force, particularly after failing to catch fire in early days with Ulster (similar to the Tadhg Beirne story at Leinster).
“It doesn’t change my preparation really,” he said of Henshaw’s mid week issues. “That’s exactly how I got in for the Argentina game in November last year, up until the Thursday Robbie was in and something happened and I got my chance. We are so well drilled in terms of preparation that nothing changes. I prepare as if I am starting the game right until the Thursday with the mindset only changing when I know I am definitely not in.”
That cannot be easy.