Billy Stickland/INPHO
big hitters

Chris Farrell relishing overdue reunion with Henshaw

The Munster centre is also enthusiastic about playing with rather than against the ‘fiery’ James Lowe.

THE INJURY-ENFORCED revolving door that kept Joe Schmidt from settling on a single centre partnership was a curious quirk through his final years in charge.

And it means that one combination of the top four midfield options is long overdue a Test run.

The strongest, most physically-imposing duo will finally get their chance to work in harness against Wales on Friday night. Chris Farrell has played with Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose, but he has waited nigh-on nine years to reforge his big match relationship with Robbie Henshaw.

“It’s the first time I’ve played with Robbie in a while,” says the Munster centre, “I played with him at U18.”

Farrell’s recollection is of a barnstorming partnership that wrought havoc for a Scottish defence in the age grade international arena. It is time the now 27-year-olds posted an update of their progress.

“It’s the first time we’ll have a chance to show what we can do as a partnership. We’ll work hard and scramble for eachother when we have to. Looking forward to that.”

Henshaw was not the only man Farrell found himself relieved to be playing with rather than against in his next run-out. As a Leinster player, James Lowe is the type of performer that a team’s supporters love and oppositions must loathe as he bounces into contests with relentless energy.

Farrell admits that, when decked out in their respective red and blue, Lowe was a difficult character to warm to. But now that they are set to row in the same direction in green he can see the wing in a new light.

“When you play against someone, the perception you might have of them is always very different to the people that are teammates with him and know him personally.

“He has that fiery edge.

“When you play against Bundee Aki at Connacht, it’s the same with him too. He has that fiery edge that when you’re playing against him, you’re thinking, ‘Jeez, I don’t know if I like this fella’. But whenever you get on the same side as him, he’s exactly what you want.

“That’s why he’s so valued by his teammates at Leinster – and at Connacht with Bundee – they bring an edge to the provinces that is valued as they’re so, so competitive and combative.

james-lowe Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“He’s a great, great fella. He’s good fun, he’s always willing to learn. He’s very open and chatty and he’s good craic, actually, to have around.”

Craic may well be an invaluable intangible quality to have around the squad these days. Ordinarily, terms like ‘good tourist’ are saved for longer trips away and stints at tournaments. But in Covid-era competition, an elite sportsman’s bubble could easily become suffocating if the environment offers no release valve to ease the pressure.

“When you’re in here for so long, it makes it easier. When you’re comfortable and in an environment you want to be in and you look forward to getting back. I find it easier to thrive in here when you’re happy.

“You’d think being in here for so long and not having the opportunity to go home on days off would get tiring. But it’s been enjoyable spending more time with the lads.. They’re not just team-mates, you become friendly over time.

“Especially when you can’t see your mates at home or people outside the bubble. At least here, we’re in a privileged position to spend time with others who we enjoy working with and enjoy talking with.”

Even if some of those friends are the same men trying to keep him out of the team.

“There’s no hiding from the fact that it’s really competitive. There’s always pressure when you’re performing at this level but where else would you rather be.”

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