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Dublin: 14 °C Monday 17 June, 2019

23-year-old Ulsterman Farrell showing quality for Jackman's Grenoble

The imposing centre was in superb form against Connacht on Saturday night.

AMIDST THE UTTER excitement at Stade des Alpes last Saturday night, Irishman Chris Farrell delivered the latest in a growing line of impressive performances for Grenoble.

His departure from Ulster in 2014 after two injury-ruined years took him out of the everyday consciousness of Irish rugby, but the 23-year-old has been fulfilling his longstanding potential in France.

Farrell Farrell beats the tackle of Robbie Henshaw.

An U20 international for Ireland, the imposing centre always looked set for big things, but a cruel run of injuries effectively meant missing two full seasons with Ulster. He made only three appearances in the 2012/13 and 2013/14 campaigns with the northern province, before taking the opportunity for a fresh start offered to him by Bernard Jackman.

The Grenoble head coach had always kept a close eye on the 6’4″ midfielder, who he believed could develop a skillset to match his impressive physicality. As we witnessed in Saturday’s Challenge Cup quarter-final, Farrell is delivering for Jackman.

The former Campbell College student has made a total of 45 appearances across the last two seasons with Grenoble, improving virtually every time he steps onto the field. Farrell looks like being a genuine contender for a call-up to Joe Schmidt’s Ireland squad.

“I think Chris Farrell is very good,” said Jackman of the 108kg centre. “There are a lot of good centres in Ireland at the moment, so I’m not going to say he should be playing for Ireland. But I think in France now his reputation is growing week on week.

“You probably didn’t see the passing game he has tonight but he’s got a brilliant passing game and he’s getting stronger in contact. He’s a guy who, like [Connacht's] Matt Healy and Niyi Adeolokun, he wasn’t lost, but he had very difficult moments in Ulster with injury. But just getting away, he’s found game time.

Chris Farrell celebrates Farrell was impressive in the 33-32 win over Connacht. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Shane O’Leary was here for a year and the fact that he was in the pro environment for a year gave him the CV to get back to Connacht. So it doesn’t matter how you get there as long as you get there, and I think Chris will get there.”

Farrell showed up well in direct opposition to Ireland star Robbie Henshaw at Stade des Alpes, carrying the ball powerfully on his eight carries as he beat three defenders. There were several glimpses of his understanding of space, good footwork and offloading game too.

Defensively, Farrell completed seven tackles, with several of them impressively impactful. Grenoble were not happy with their defensive performance overall, but Farrell stood up well.

Contracted to Grenoble until the summer of 2017, it would be no surprise to see Farrell attract interest from one or two of the Irish provinces in the near future.

“I think it’s important for him to choose the right moment to go back to a team where he’s going to play, and at the moment it’s not obvious where that is,” says Jackman.

Offload Farrell breaks and feeds Gio Aplon.

“Thankfully he’s got another year on his contract with us, and my job is obviously to try and get guys to win for Grenoble, but long term to maximise their potential and for me he has the potential to be an international rugby player.

“How quickly that happens, I don’t know but playing for us every week is good for him. The way we play is good for him.”

An unassuming character, Farrell will continue to keep his head down and work hard for Grenoble. Irish loosehead Denis Coulson is an emerging prospect at FCG, though scrum-half James Hart is set to exit the club this summer. Farrell has been the most successful Irish import so far for Jackman and co.

If Farrell’s future does not involve a return to one of the provinces, his experiences in France serve as a notice to similarly talented young players. The grass has been much greener for the 23-year-old on foreign soil.

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Murray Kinsella

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