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Dublin: 5 °C Sunday 29 March, 2020

'Chris's temperament tells me that he won't get spooked by all of that'

Bernard Jackman knows Ireland centre Chris Farrell better than most, having worked with him in Grenoble.

LOOKING AT IT from a completely detached point of view, Ireland are down to their fourth-choice outside centre in Chris Farrell.

The Munster midfielder is set to wear 13 in Robbie Henshaw’s injury-enforced absence against Wales in Dublin in Saturday and it is certainly the biggest test of his career yet.

Chris Farrell Farrell is set to start at 13 for Ireland against Wales. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

It will be just cap number three for the 24-year-old, who made his debut against Fiji in November before impressing against Argentina a week later, also getting that opportunity due to a Henshaw injury.

However, while Joe Schmidt may have been forced to dip into his depth chart in backing Farrell to fill Henshaw’s boots, those who know the Ulster native have belief in his ability to step up.

Bernard Jackman convinced Farrell to move to Grenoble in 2014 after two injury-ravaged seasons on the fringes of the Ulster squad, with the Fivemiletown man never looking back.

Farrell went to France as an inside centre, but Jackman and Grenoble converted him into an impressive 13 who was much in-demand when he decided to move on from the club last summer.

Wales might fancy their chances of exploiting the Test inexperience of Farrell on Saturday but Jackman feels the centre is mentally built for this kind of challenge.

“Chris’s temperament tells me that he won’t get spooked by all of that,” says Jackman.

“He was highly sought after when he was leaving Grenoble. Bordeaux, Saracens, all the Irish provinces wanted him – he’s not a fly by night, he’s earned the right to get his chance.

“His character would say he’d eat it up, he’s not someone who is going to shrink into himself. He’s a very friendly, amicable guy off the field and when he gets on it, he changes a bit.

Bernard Jackman Currencyfair 2 Bernard Jackman, pictured at a press briefing held in the offices of CurrencyFair in Dublin. CurrencyFair, the currency exchange platform, have partnered with Bernard as a brand ambassador for the Six Nations rugby tournament and 2018. Source: Robbie Reynolds

“He’s a Test match animal-type personality – when he crosses the white line he changes, which is perfect. I wouldn’t see the pressure getting to him.”

Coaching Farrell in France, Jackman appreciated the fact that when the going got tough on the pitch, Farrell became more influential than ever.

Jackman recalls one game against Clermont in particular, with Grenoble going 15-0 down. While some Grenoble heads appeared to drop, Farrell put his hand up and demanded the ball even more.

Current Dragons boss Jackman believes Farrell has the defensive intelligence and communication to fit in for Ireland against the ever-improving Welsh attack too.

“He’s one of those who talks his way through a game, kind of like a Kiwi,” says Jackman. “His small talk is really good, so he gives people inside and outside him precise, accurate information.

“Some of the best defenders never have to tackle. They just shape what the attack sees and get the threat closed off without having to commit.

“He has that ability to portray a picture to the attack through his body shape and his talk, so that they go somewhere else.”

It’s one of Farrell’s attribute that Jackman believes Schmidt may appreciate.

Chris Farrell and Johnny Sexton Farrell alongside Johnny Sexton in Ireland training this week. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“The top players, often physically, there isn’t much between them,” says Jackman. “If you got them in and did a battery of testing on them, sometimes there are a lot more physically-gifted players sitting in regions or provinces this week than in Carton House.

“But what makes the difference is their ability communicate well. For a centre now, playing at the back of a forward pod, you’ve got to be able to see the opportunities and communicate that clearly.

“We know 13s and 10s, when they’re on the outside of the front line, they need to be able to communicate really well, what kind of linespeed you’re going to come at, where you’re going to close or soften up a little bit. And I think Joe would certainly appreciate that.”

At 6ft 4ins and around 110kg, Farrell has the physical attributes of what Jackman calls a “classic 12″ and there have been some calls from Ireland and Munster supporters to play him at inside centre.

Indeed, the 12 shirt is where Farrell lined out during his time with the Ireland U20s and where he first appeared for Ulster, but Jackman explains that when Farrell arrived in Grenoble they had a strong feeling he could be a success at 13.

“We saw footwork and we saw a very smart defender who had an excellent passing game,” says Jackman, “so we didn’t see him as a 12.

“When we looked at him, physically we saw him as a 12 but when we looked at his attributes, we saw him as a 13.

“He’s such a good passer. In terms of strike options from set-piece, having him there changes the variety with which you can play and makes the defence have to worry about different options.

Chris Farrell Jackman rates Farrell's passing ability. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“There are certain players who, if they play 13, you can to adjust your defence accordingly but with Chris, he has that ability to throw a long accurate pass off either hand.

“I know going into November, there was a forward pass against Leinster and an interception in Europe but generally in terms of overall accuracy, he’s a very consistent passer. We felt he was a 13. I think Munster feel the same and Ireland feel the same.”

With those attacking and defensive attributes in place, Jackman underlines his belief that Farrell’s character means he will adapt to the pressure involved on Saturday.

“He’s a soldier.

“I don’t have any fears about him.”

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Murray Kinsella

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