When you consider how much his career has blossomed in the past couple of years, it is understandable that Munster centre Chris Farrell is excited by the prospect of featuring in the forthcoming Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Ireland’s Pool A campaign gets underway with a tantalising match against Scotland on Sunday, September 22. Joe Schmidt’s charges will be seeking to reach the semi-final of the tournament for the very first time, having fallen short against Argentina under his watch four years ago.
Because of the number of injuries they had to contend with for that quarter-final tie against the Pumas, there was significant question marks surrounding the depth of the Ireland squad. At that time, Farrell was in the middle of a three-season stint at Top 14 outfit Grenoble and thus not on the radar for international recognition.
However, his switch to Munster in the summer of 2017 provided the Tyrone native with an ideal platform. He made his Ireland debut at home to Fiji in November of that year and even though injury has since restricted him to five caps, he produced an outstanding display against Wales during Ireland’s march to Grand Slam glory in 2018.
Farrell also completed the full 80 minutes in this year’s Six Nations wins over Scotland and Italy, which gives him a solid shot at making Schmidt’s final squad of 31. With the potential thrill of a first World Cup, he is looking to put his best foot forward if selected this Saturday against the Azzurri at the Aviva Stadium (kick-off 2pm). Click here to buy your ticket(s).
“Everybody is excited about it,” admitted the powerful 26-year-old back. “We’ve been excited about it for ages. It’s a World Cup year. Even throughout last season, you were putting your hand up for your provincial side and trying to impress the international coaches knowing what’s ahead. We’re excited about everything.
“We’re excited about that coming up in a month, but we’re most excited about getting back on the pitch in a competitive sense this weekend. You’re not looking beyond this weekend certainly. I’m not anyway, whether I’m involved this weekend or not.
“I’m just hoping if I am involved this weekend, I’ll put as much as I can do into the game and show the coaches that I’m ready, and if I do end up going in a month’s time to Japan that I’ll be well ready to put my hand up and wear the green jersey. Represent our country the best that I can. We’re obviously excited about what’s coming, but excited about this weekend first and foremost.”
In comparison to more experienced backs in the current Ireland squad like Rob Kearney (90 caps), Jonathan Sexton (83), Keith Earls (77) and Conor Murray (72), Farrell is still a relative novice at this grade. Nonetheless, he has never been made to feel like a fish out of water within the Irish set-up.
“I feel comfortable enough. Obviously these last two years I’ve had the one big injury which had me out for nine months. Maybe that’s affected how many caps I’ve been able to amount. I feel really comfortable. I feel at home here in Carton House with everybody else.
“In training I feel very comfortable. I think it’s just a matter of time before I can hopefully 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.”
Over the course of the past two Six Nations Championships, Farrell was one of four players to helm the Irish midfield. Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose have also featured prominently and it is certainly an area of the pitch where Schmidt and his fellow coaches appear to be spoilt for choice.
Despite playing exclusively at outside centre in his five caps to date, Farrell is also an option for the inside berth. Notably, the former Ulster player is hoping this versatility can help to boost his claims for a place in the World Cup squad.
“There’s lots of other lads who can cover centre, play lots of positions. Joe is looking for versatility, I think, when it comes to squad members and players who can play across the back-line. You look at Keith Earls and Jordan Larmour and boys like that have done it for him in the past there.
“Even 10s moving to the centre for stages when it’s needed. 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’ll give me the best chance I can get,” he admitted.
Six Nations rivals Scotland will provide Ireland with a blockbusting start to their World Cup journey next month. While acknowledging they will need to be at their best for that all-important opening game of the tournament, Farrell believes their approach to this Saturday’s clash with Italy – and the subsequent warm-up Tests against England and Wales – will be similar in nature.
“You have to be ready for any games, whether it be Scotland or not. These are World Cups. No matter who we’re playing in the pool stages, they’re all going to come out and fire at us, and fire shots. We’ve got to be prepared, no matter who it is. We have to be as prepared for Scotland as we will for the other teams.
“The warm-up games are good because we’ll be doing the same for those. These games aren’t treated any differently because they’re warm-up games or because it’s the first Test match of the World Cup pool. The team that plays Italy will be as well-prepared, hopefully, as the team that plays Scotland in that first pool game.
“You’ve got to prepare every game like it’s the same. We’re professionals a long time and in this Irish set-up, I’d like to think we’re one of the best prepared teams in the international field. It’ll be no different whether it be this weekend or in a month’s time,” he added.