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‘This Munster team wants to evolve and I can be a key part of that hopefully’

Chris Farrell has always seen himself as more than just ‘an extra forward’ in the back-line, but he’s determined to add more grunt alongside his under-rated handling ability.

CHRIS FARRELL HAS never been averse to switching up the tried-and-tested to chase something better.

A big summer signing for Munster in a very real sense, he has swapped the sweeping Alpine landscapes of Grenoble for lovely Limerick, exile for a chance to play for Ireland.

The Ulster native has taken heaps of experience with him on his return from France. Some linguistic skills too, not that he gets a chance to use it despite shacking up with fellow Top14 recruit James Hart.

He’s a towering presence as he walks into the press room in Munster’s high performance centre in UL. Yet when he speaks, there’s no wasted force behind his words, they tumble out naturally, not a decibel higher than he needs to be.

That same sort of subtle touch can be seen in his approach to rugby. According to his Munster centre partner – and his former Ireland U18s out-half – Rory Scannell, Farrell has continually been able to surprise opponents who see only the physique running at them, rather than the handling skills that can circumvent them altogether.

Chris Farrell off loads in the tackle Source: Photo by Ron Gaunt

Farrell naturally stood out in Ulster’s fervent schools system and won a senior debut against Leinster in the RDS at the age of 18. Unfortunately for Farrell, when injury strikes, rugby doesn’t tend to wait around for you. So while his frustrating run of fitness issues continuesd there was little comfort in watching prospects like Luke Marshall and Stuart Olding (Stu McCloskey would be a later bloomer) fill in the same gaps he craved.

He sought a fresh start, for body and mind, and it was off on the mountain path to Bernard Jackman’s Irish outpost in Grenoble.

“I loved it,” Farrell says, before looking back to appraise his time without giving himself an inch of slack for the fact that he made the move at the tender age of 21.

“It took a while to get things going full steam — the first year I was playing well in stages and stuff, but the consistency thing… I needed to become more consistent. The next season it just took off and year two or three in France I could perform week-in, week out. Whenever you play consistent rugby you can stand out a bit more.“

Under Jackman of course, Grenoble made a habit of unleashing breathless, free-flowing rugby and Farrell revelled as a totemic figure in that loose structure. This being Castres week, we bring up one of his memorable tries against CO. His power to finish, but all the magic was from Gio Aplon.

Source: TOP 14 - Officiel/YouTube

“Having ‘Apples’ beside you, it was obviously good to learn from someone like him. There were loads of players, Jon Wisniewski at 10 had loads of experience in the Top14 and the brand of rugby really suited me. We played fast and I found myself in space more often than not. It just worked.”

As gameplans go, it was a potent acquired taste of a cheese compared to the highly effective chalk which Munster used to draw up their return to the elite level of European competition last season. Now that southern province are expanding from those rock solid foundations in the latter days of Erasmus’ reign, the new centre looks ideally designed for that. Never mind that he’s 6’4” and 110 kg.

“You always see people in the media stereotyping you for your size. From an early stage, there was a playmaking aspect to it as well,” says Farrell, who grew up as a 12 with idols including Gordon D’Arcy rather than, say, Kevin Maggs or Trevor Halstead.

Yet, now that he’s older and reaching the peak of his physical prowess, Farrell is keen to fulfil more of the typical traits you’d expect from a big boshing centre as well as surprise people with the more subtle elements of his game. With Erasmus widening the reach of Munster’s attack before Johann van Graan takes over, the mix Farrell brings could prove to be an incredibly potent one.

Chris Farrell tackled by Robbie Henshaw Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“We are trying to evolve the game and that will take time, but I love playing the games that are physical. I’d love to be relied on as someone who can get us over the gain-line and do that side of things. But at the same time, it’s good that I can offer myself in the (distribution) aspects because this Munster team wants to evolve and I can be a key part of that hopefully.”

Tomorrow’s commencement of Champions Cup hostilities in Castres (kick-off 1pm, Sky Sports) may require some of the more primal elements engrained in Munster rather than the ambitious triple-10 experiment which they unfolded away to Leinster last weekend.

Munster’s stalwarts have some old happy memories of Ronan O’Gara delivering a late victory on this trip in 2011, but Farrell has fresh ones; a seven-try 46  – 9 demolition job just over a year ago when Grenoble suffered for having their focus diverted to more attainable points at home.

Chris Farrell Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“It’s a really tough place to go: the south-west midlands of France just love their rugby – there’s nothing else going on, it’s all rugby… they just love rugby and they get behind the team.

“It can feel like they’re coming in on top of you almost when you play down there. Once the crowd get behind them and they’re going forward they’re difficult to stop and it’s a real momentum train.

“They’re a solid, physical, direct team. I’d like to think if we can perform to our ability we’d push them close. It’s going to be a really tough encounter but I’m really looking forward to it.

“The frustration of last week will hopefully allow us deliver this week. The same with Glasgow (37 – 10 defeat); we were really disappointed with that result, then that maybe helped us against Cardiff (a 39 – 16 win).

“I think one of the differences between here and France you come in after a loss and it feels like a crisis. You feel so disappointed in each other, especially yourself, that you’ve let each other down.”

“It’s always difficult the few days after a game. When you’re not injured you want the chance to put things right or discuss things with coaches. Game scenarios and stuff just play over in your head. At least now we’ve got Sunday to put things right.”

Castres:

15. Julien Dumora
14. Taylor Paris
13. Afusipa Taumoepeau
12. Robert Ebersohn
11. David Smith
10. Benjamin Urdapilleta
9. Rory Kockott
1. Antoine Tichit
2. Jody Jenneker
3. Daniel Kotze
4. Loic Jacquet
5. Rodrigo Capo Ortega
6. Yannick Caballero
7. Steve Mafi
8. Maama Vaipulu

Replacements:

16. Marc-Antoine Rallier
17. Mihaita Lazar
18. Damien Tussac
19. Christophe Samson
20. Anthony Jelonch
21. Ludovic Radosavljevic
22. Florian Vialelle
23. Armand Batlle

Munster:

15. Simon Zebo
14. Darren Sweetnam
13. Chris Farrell
12. Rory Scannell
11. Keith Earls
10. Tyler Bleyendaal
9. Conor Murray

1. Dave Kilcoyne
2. Niall Scannell
3. Stephen Archer
4. Mark Flanagan
5. Billy Holland
6. Peter O’Mahony (captain)
7. Tommy O’Donnell
8. CJ Stander

Replacements:

16. Rhys Marshall
17. Liam O’Connor
18. John Ryan
19. Robin Copeland
20. Jack O’Donoghue
21. Duncan Williams
22. Ian Keatley
23. Andrew Conway

Referee: Matthey Carley

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