Unlucky 13 strikes again but Farrell’s injury opens door for Ringrose
Leinster man now poised to partner Aki in Irish midfield against Scotland
Chris Farrell in action during his man-of-the-match display at the Aviva Stadium. He twisted his knee during training at the same venue yesterday. Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images
Unlucky 13 indeed.
No sooner had Chris Farrell announced himself on the international stage with his Man of the Match performance on his NatWest Six Nations debut against Wales last Saturday than his tournament was ended after he twisted his knee on the same Aviva Stadium turf toward the end of yesterday’s open session.
Although seemingly initially in severe pain, he returned to the end-of-session huddle after receiving treatment and then informed Joe Schmidt that he felt fine.
However, a subsequent IRFU statement confirmed: “He was sent for a precautionary scan this afternoon which indicated some ligament damage had occurred and he will now see a specialist. Chris is unlikely to be available for the remainder of the Six Nations. ”
It is a particularly cruel blow for the 24-year-old, who had looked set to be retained for Saturday week’s rendezvous with Scotland. In the absence, also, of Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw, some consolation for Schmidt and the coaching staff is that Garry Ringrose made his comeback for Leinster last Friday against the Southern Kings, playing 54 minutes, after six weeks out with an ankle injury.
Schmidt confirmed that Ringrose has been restored to the Irish squad and while another Munster centre, Sam Arnold, was brought in for yesterday’s session, Ringrose will now almost certainly line up alongside Bundee Aki in the Irish midfield for his first Test since the summer tour against the Scots.
Speaking before Farrell’s injury was confirmed, Schmidt said of Ringrose: “It’s great to have him back in there. I thought he was really sharp in training today and he was good against the Kings, so he’s hit the ground running. He’s a smart player as well as a really good athlete.”
The Aki-Ringrose partnership will be the 25th different centre combination in Schmidt’s tenure.
The wounded quartet of Conor Murray, Johnny Sexton, Iain Henderson and Tadhg Furlong were confined to various degrees of running on the sidelines but Schmidt expressed the belief that all four will train fully next week.
However, pending a conversation with Sean O’Brien today, Schmidt confirmed that the Leinster management had ruled out a return for the flanker next weekend due to the hip injury which has sidelined him since the Exeter game at the Aviva on December 16th.
The week had begun with Jamie Heaslip’s announcement on Monday confirming his retirement. Heaslip hadn’t played since the penultimate game of last season’s Six Nations against Wales and, as much as anything, his calm temperament on the pitch will be missed according to Joe Schmidt.
“Inevitably there are some real pressure points in games and Jamie doesn’t really do pressure points – he does opportunities. His outlook on how to solve problems was that ‘this is great, let’s get a solution here’. His calm on the pitch when you have got young players is really important.”
As an example of Heaslip’s ability to read the game, Schmidt cited Heaslip completing the World Try of the Year against Italy two seasons ago when running a clever pitch-length trailer that more often than not would have come to nothing and never been detected.
“If you look at that from the rear angle he is almost last up out of a ruck on our 22 metre line. The ball goes to the edge, there is some inter-play between Simon Zebo and Jared Payne, and Fergus McFadden gets involved and then he is tracking right up the pitch exactly where we need him to be.
“He does see the game very well and he had that big engine that allowed him not just see it but put himself in a position to contribute to it and that was always crucial.
“He was incredibly good at the rolling maul. If he had a corner he was tough to shift. He was really good at leading the scrum and I know leading the scrum when you are the back of it doesn’t quite make sense, but for us it is a really important position.
“He would jump for us at the front of the lineout quite often, and was skilful there; very reliable, handling-wise, and that ability across the full spectrum of what’s required in a player, his decision-making in defence.
“You’ve got seeing the game late and then making the decision to catch up. Jamie would see the game, predict what would happen next, so that he could get in a position to contribute either side of the ball whether it’s scoring that try or getting back and making that tackle on Stuart Hogg. He had a habit.
“People said, ‘it’s lucky Jamie was there’. Not according to Jamie. Not according to us. You get lucky sometimes. He managed to have a knack of it. That probably becomes an ability to read the game more than luck.”