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Chris Farrell has 'his nose in front' for Ireland's 13 shirt - Schmidt

The Munster centre is expected to replace Robbie Henshaw for the clash with Wales.

ALTHOUGH THERE IS still a slim chance that Garry Ringrose could come straight back into Ireland’s team to face Wales, it looks almost certain that Munster man Chris Farrell will be wearing 13 in two weekends’ time.

Pablo Matera and Chris Farrell Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Robbie Henshaw’s injury – Schmidt said yesterday that the Leinster midfielder will be out for three or four months – has opened the door at outside centre.

Farrell made his Ireland debut last November against Fiji and then started a week later versus Argentina after Henshaw picked up a hamstring strain.

That experience means Farrell has played alongside Bundee Aki relatively recently in green, while he has also been part of the current Six Nations squad over the last fortnight – even if he hasn’t appeared on the pitch yet.

While Ringrose has been rehabbing at Leinster after ankle surgery and possibly won’t even play for this province this weekend, Farrell has been in the Ireland mix and served as one of their extra bodies at the Aviva Stadium before the clash with Italy last weekend.

Speaking after yesterday’s open training session at Buccaneers RFC, Schmidt indicated that Farrell’s involvement so far during this campaign means he is ahead of Ringrose in the race for the 13 jersey.

“I do think Chris would have his nose in front because he’s been with us the whole time and Garry hasn’t,” said Schmidt. “As much as Garry has had more Test match experience and was outstanding in Japan and the USA and was super for us previous to that, Chris has got the current game form with us.

Ireland’s Chris Farrell Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“He kind of found his feet a bit against Fiji, 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.”

Farrell, who returned to Ireland to join Munster last summer after three seasons with French club Grenoble, has shown an ability to learn quickly too, with Ireland understood to be pleased with his capacity to take on new information and put it into practice.

His team-mates have been impressed with the Ulster native’s impact in Ireland camp, with wing Fergus McFadden pointing out that Farrell has proved there is much more to his game than his 6ft 4ins, 110kg physicality.

“On paper, Chris coming over, I hadn’t really seen that much of him playing and I thought ‘really big guy, probably really physical, up and down’ but he’s actually got a really lovely passing game as well,” said McFadden.

Chris Farrell Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“I’ve been very impressed by that. He’s been really good in training and I think the opportunity he got in November, himself and Bundee went well together.

“I’m not sure what Joe is going to do in that area next week, but if he gives Chris the nod I’ve no doubt he’ll step up.

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“We’ll obviously miss Robbie but it’s one of those things, we’ve got a very competitive squad now and guys will step in and just need to do the same job really.”

Schmidt very much echoed McFadden’s sentiment about Henshaw being missed, but he too is looking to focus on the players that he can actually call on for the remainder of the Six Nations.

The Ireland head coach actually had a premonition just before Henshaw’s shoulder injury last weekend.

“As he was going in to score that I had a very bad feeling and I said in the coaches’ box, as he was going in to score it, ‘Don’t score Robbie.’ We didn’t need the try, we need him, and it’s not very often a coach is saying that to a player quietly in a coaching box but it is what it is.

“As I say, we will get really excited about the players we do have because we know how hard they are going to work on Saturday week.”

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Murray Kinsella

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