Ireland centre Chris Farrell felt that Bundee Aki’s try on the stroke of half-time played a massive part in their 37-27 NatWest 6 Nations victory against Wales at the Aviva Stadium yesterday.
Trailing by eight points – after Wales followed up a Gareth Davies try with a Leigh Halfpenny penalty – Ireland turned this Celtic clash on its head with a 10-point spurt in the lead up to the interval.
A typically abrasive finish by Bundee Aki, coupled with five points from the boot of Jonathan Sexton, handed Ireland a 15-13 half-time lead which gave them a crucial platform to build on after the break.
“(Bundee’s try) was massive. It’s massive to go in ahead. There’s a difference between going in ahead, and was it five points behind we could have been if we went in at that stage? That’s a huge difference,” insisted Chris Farrell, who has now notched wins over Fiji, Argentina and Wales in his Test career.
“Even the 20 minutes after the half, if you think back we were 10 points up. But on another day, if we were a little bit more clinical, we could have strode away there if a few things went right. But it didn’t and we ended up having to scrap right to the very end. On another day, things could have been very different.”
While Aki was among the try scorers on the day, it was his centre partner who came away with the man-of-the-match award. Farrell had big shoes to fill in the absence of the injured Robbie Henshaw, but the Munster back was ready for the cauldron of a crunch Six Nations encounter.
“I don’t think it needs to be said what’s expected of you. When you wear a 13 jersey with Ireland, because of whose been there before and what they’ve done, between Garry (Ringrose), Robbie and Brian O’Driscoll before that. They’ve all been unbelievable,” said the Championship debutant.
“There’s a certain expectation there, and I know it, because I’ve watched them for the last six, seven, 10 years, whatever it has been. They’ve all done amazing things there. There is a pressure without a doubt, but for me, it was almost like going back to the Fiji game I played in November. I was trying to fit in and whatever else comes with that is a bonus again.”
As well as putting in some hard hits throughout the five-try success, Farrell used his big frame to provide quality go-forward ball. For the 24-year-old Tyrone native, who returned to Irish Rugby this season following a three-year stint with French club Grenoble, the key to his impressive performance was getting involved in the play as early as possible.
“I did have a few involvements in the first maybe 30 seconds and that sort of gives you a bit of confidence. When it goes that well, it gives you a little bit of a platform to build on and get a feeling for what’s in front of you. What way the defence is going.
“I did feel like I was making yards every time I got the ball and that’s probably to do with Johnny (Sexton) and the way he controls defences. The way he shows out the back of things and helps you along.”
With three rounds of the Six Nations played, Ireland are sitting pretty with a five-point lead at the top of the table. Although an enthralling Calcutta Cup tie between Scotland and England was still ongoing when he spoke to the assembled media, Farrell was already looking forward to a mouthwatering showdown with the Scots on Saturday week (March 10).
The 24-year-old added: “There’s huge momentum. This team have done a lot so far. We haven’t made it easy for ourselves, but we showed a lot of character to get the three wins.
Scotland will be no easy task, because we know what they’re like and there’s always a massive extra bite against the Scottish teams. Whether that be for Munster, Leinster against Glasgow, or Ireland against Scotland.”