Constant ‘handful’ Farrell leading charge to break into Ireland squad

Sean Farrell reports from the Sportsground

OPENINGS DON’T COME easily in an international squad which has ploughed through a stellar year of titles, tour wins and a sweet success over the number one team in the world.

Ireland’s midfield stocks were a major feature of that success throughout last year. Joe Schmidt’s early days in international rugby were marked by a reliance on Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy. In 2018, one centre seemingly hit red hot form just as one succumbed to injury and transition from one partnership to another was seamless.

Dislodging any one of Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, Robbie Henshaw or Chris Farrell when fit is a tall order. But Farrell took a knock to the knee on Saturday and Henshaw is still on the way back from a hamstring injury. Fortunately, his former club have been showcasing Ireland’s form back through the first half of the season.

Despite defeat to Munster at the Sportsground on Saturday night, Farrell’s performance was a distilled version of his season so far. Nothing short of sensational.

The man who wound up playing in the Championship with Bedford two years ago was the catalyst for all three of Connacht’s tries against Munster. The scores came against the run of play, because Farrell kept making game-changing plays.

He tackles with a ferocity that has made his partnership with Bundee Aki an exhilarating watch. Without the Ireland centre on Saturday he didn’t shirk the added responsibility and opened the game with a remarkable try from a tackle and rip of Arno Botha.

Farrell offloads out of a Tadhg Beirne tackle. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

It is the 25-year-old’s attacking strengths which really bother opposition defences. His powerful carries continually come with the ability to get a hand free to offer up offloads like the one that allowed Colby Fainga’a raid late through the middle and slip Jack Carty away on a try-scoring run.

The try which might please Farrell most, however, was the second half-starter when he scythed between Dan Goggin and Chris Farrell. His namesake’s renowned physical presence was utterly negated by a sharp fend and a slick pass right to set Cian Kelleher scorching away.

“I thought he was dynamic again today,” said head coach Andy Friend, before widening focus to send praise the way of debutant Tom Daly.

“But Tommy Farrell, every time he touches the ball he’s a handful. He’s playing some good rugby.”

Asked how long into his tenure it took to spot the ‘gem’ of a centre, he had on his hands, Friend again divided praise among his charges.

“We have a lot of gems. This bloke here (Paul Boyle) beside me is a gem too. We’ve got young  (Caolin) Bladey, who has been a gem all year. Jack Carty has been a gem. We’ve got some real beauties across the team.

“So it’s a team of gems, honestly, and we’ve just got to keep polishing them and giving them the confidence to play and they’ll keep producing some of the footy they’re playing.”

For country, you suspect, as well as province.

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