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'I've been talking to Chris for three or four years, he's been a long-term project'

The Munster centre will win his third cap against Wales this weekend.

Farrell replaces Robbie Henshaw in Ireland's midfield.
Farrell replaces Robbie Henshaw in Ireland's midfield.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ryan Bailey reports from Carton House

THE PROMOTION OF Chris Farrell to Ireland’s starting 13 for Saturday’s Six Nations showdown with Wales has been a ‘long-term project’ after he was identified by Joe Schmidt during his time in France.

Farrell, a product of Campbell College and Clogher Valley RFC in Tyrone, is set for his first championship start this weekend and while the door has opened because of injury, the 24-year-old has been primed for this opportunity for some time.

The centre was frustrated by a lack of game time at Ulster due to their plethora of midfield options and moved to Grenoble for three seasons, where he played under Bernard Jackman in the Top 14, before returning home to Munster at the start of this season.

Farrell made his international debut in the November Test against Fiji at the Aviva Stadium and was retained for the victory over Argentina the following week, and he’ll renew that partnership with Bundee Aki this weekend.

When Robbie Henshaw dislocated his shoulder in the act of scoring against Italy a fortnight ago, Farrell emerged as the obvious candidate to deputise for the Leinster man with Garry Ringrose still working his way back to match fitness.

Known for his strong ball-carrying ability in midfield, as well as a sound defensive game, Farrell has made a big impression on Schmidt, with the Ireland head coach underlining that the 6ft 4ins centre brings much more than just size to the party. His soft handling skills and passing, in particular, have caught the eye.

“I’ve been talking to Chris Farrell for three of four years, he’s been a long-term project, and I thought he did really well against Argentina in only his second Test,” Schmidt said this afternoon.

Farrell has big shoes to fill in replacing Henshaw but Schmidt is confident the Munster man, along with Andrew Porter and James Ryan, can step up and offset the loss of three Lions in Henshaw, Tadhg Furlong and Iain Henderson.

Chris Farrell tackled by Ben Volavola The 24-year-old made his debut against Fiji last November. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“He kind of found his feet a bit against Fiji,” Schmidt said of Farrell. “I thought he was really good against Argentina and I think he showed there’s a bit more to Chris Farrell than a bludgeon — nice soft skills and a tight pass, he’s got a good length in his pass.

“He’s actually got pretty good kicking skills and I thought his defensive acumen on the day against an Argentinian team with the likes of [Joaquín] Tuculet coming into the back line, just outside that midfield area, where he’s kind of in the midfield and then looking to get out to those sort of guys, I thought he closed the space down really well.

“They’d be probably some of the things that we’d volunteer as the strengths we see with Chris.”

Keith Earls, who will win his 64th cap on the wing, added that he was excited to line out alongside his Munster team-mate on Saturday.

“I’ve been keeping an eye on him as well because I know ‘Prendie’ (Mike Prendergast) fairly well and they’ve been on about Chris,” Earls said.

“Obviously I knew he was Irish playing in France so I was looking at that league and meeting Prendie on holidays this year, he was telling me how excited he is for me to play with Chris with his passing game.

“He’s a monster as well, so looks after me!”

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Ryan Bailey

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