Farrell feeling at home as he bids to ‘heap more pressure’ on other centres

JOE SCHMIDT’S DECISION to cull two players from his extended World Cup squad before a ball is even kicked is not only a reminder of how ruthless the selection process is likely to be, but also a move set to sharpen minds and narrow the focus.

They may have both ‘done really well’ during a gruelling six-week pre-season block, but such is the competition for places within the squad, Ultan Dillane and Rory Scannell were yesterday cut from Schmidt’s plans for Japan ahead of the first warm-up game.

Munster’s Chris Farrell at training at Carton House. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

For the remaining 43 players in camp, it serves as a reminder, if nothing else, how quickly the World Cup dream can be dashed and why, if given the opportunity over the coming weeks, they must seize that chance in the green jersey.

The departure of his Munster team-mate means there is one less centre for Chris Farrell to worry about when it comes to making the final 31 travelling party to Japan, but the 26-year-old is intent on proving his versatility against Italy this Saturday.

Farrell, who has five international caps to his name, is one of four centres remaining in the squad, with Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw providing the other midfield options.

It could well be that Schmidt brings all four to the World Cup, but Farrell doesn’t want to leave anything to chance, and is focused on putting his best foot forward if selected against the Azzurri at the Aviva Stadium.

“It’s been really tough for those lads [Dillane and Scannell] because they’ve put six weeks of hard training down and they’ve tried to put their best foot forward as much as they could,” Farrell says.

“For us, it’s just about taking every opportunity we have now, whether that be in training tomorrow or in training on Thursday or Friday. Whether that be in the game this weekend, some lads won’t get that opportunity this weekend.

“If you’re lucky enough to get that opportunity this weekend, you’ve got the first one and you can make a statement to Joe and the coaches.”

Farrell has started all five of his Test matches at outside centre, but the Munster back is keen to prove he can play in more than one position. 

He continues: “Joe is looking for versatility I think when it comes to squad members and players who can play across the backline.

“You look at Keith Earls and Jordan Larmour and boys like this who have done it for them in the past there. For me, it’s just showing the coaches that I can be versatile as well whether that be playing 12, 13, putting myself on the wing when I need to. That will give me the best chance I can get.”

Schmidt has always been a big admirer of Farrell, who returned from Grenoble to Ireland at the start of the 2017/18 season, and his ability to bring power and guile to the jersey saw him earn Six Nations starts against Scotland and Italy in Rome.

Farrell hopes to play against Italy this weekend. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The Ireland head coach wasted little time in bringing Farrell into the national team fold once he had returned to these shores, the Belfast native making his international debut against Fiji in November 2017.

But a serious knee injury after a man-of-the-match performance against Wales in the 2018 Grand Slam-winning campaign was a cruel setback in his first season at Munster, meaning Farrell has had limited opportunity to really press his case for a starting berth in the Ireland midfield.

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Now, he’s ready to prove his worth in green. 

“I feel very comfortable, I feel at home here in Carton House and in training,” he says.

“It’s just a matter of time, hopefully, before I can put my hand up and heap more pressure on the other lads who are playing in the centre as well and prove myself to the coaching staff.

“It’s something very different as well, preparing for your first game being an international Test but also doing a full pre-season with the national players is also something that’s been enjoyable.”

Although the serious business is now starting and the stakes getting higher, Farrell is, above all, just looking forward to pulling on the green jersey in a Test match at the Aviva Stadium again. 

“Everyone is excited about it,” he adds. “We’ve been excited about it for ages, it’s World Cup year. Even throughout last season you were putting your hand up for your club and trying to impress the international coaches knowing what’s ahead.

“We’re excited about everything, but most excited about getting back on the pitch in a competitive sense this weekend. You’re not looking beyond this weekend. I’m not anyway.

“I’ll just be hoping I can put as much as what I can do into the game and show the coaches I’m ready and if I do end up going to Japan, that I would be ready to put my hand up, wear the green jersey and represent our country the best I can.”

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