Cian Tracey: 'Farrell brings extra dynamic to Munster's attacking play'
Fit-again centre increases Reds' options with the ball as he mixes subtlety with raw power
There are almost 77 minutes on the clock and just when you expect Chris Farrell to be blowing hard after 10 months out with a serious knee injury, he steam-rolls an Edinburgh defender as if it were the opening stages of the game.
It has been a long road back to full fitness for Farrell, for whom the journey must have felt a lot long longer given the amount and the magnitude of the games that he missed.
Munster might not have come unstuck in both semi-finals last season if they had a fit and firing Farrell, and his performance last weekend, albeit against a poor Edinburgh side, merely heightened those claims.
The 25-year-old will hope he has done enough to start against Castres on Sunday as he faces competition from Sammy Arnold and Jaco Taute.
His lengthy spell on the sidelines has afforded him the chance to fine-tune other areas of his game and the word from the Munster camp is that Farrell has been working hard on his ball handling and transferring skills.
We saw an array of that in the Edinburgh win as the former Ulster centre mixed his usual power game with play-making subtleties.
Farrell will have been delighted too that he did so in front of Joe Schmidt, who remains a keen admirer.
It was interesting to note that the Ireland head coach mentioned Farrell's name a couple of times throughout November as if to remind him that he wasn't far from his thoughts.
Given how well Ireland's centres performed after Farrell injured his knee following his man-of-the-match display in the win over Wales, it's easy to forget how impressive he was that day.
Schmidt was the key man who orchestrated his move back to Ireland following a three-year stint with Grenoble. During his time in France, Schmidt regularly gave Farrell feedback on his performances and areas he could work on - all with a view to him hitting the ground running as soon as he joined Munster last year.
His timely return, alongside Conor Murray, suddenly adds a whole new complexion to Johann van Graan's attacking options.
With Joey Carbery set to start alongside Murray for the first time in red when Castres come to Thomond Park, Munster supporters have every reason to feel excited about the possibilities that lie ahead.
One of the criticisms aimed at Munster over recent years is their predictability when they move through the phases, but Felix Jones has done a fine job in attempting to change that.
In image (1), we see a good example. Edinburgh have just made a mess of a lineout wide on the left and Munster take advantage as their transition from defence into attack is seamless.
It only takes them two phases and six passes to sweep the ball to the other side of the pitch and score through Andrew Conway. It was ruthlessly clinical and it was Farrell's intricate pass that created the space.
Farrell is highlighted in yellow and note how he sucks three defenders in.
Edinburgh are expecting a big crash ball but instead Farrell plays a sumptuous reverse pass back for JJ Hanrahan (green), who is going to move the ball wide to Mike Haley, who will then put Conway over as Munster leave the covering defenders (red) totally exposed.
Less than 15 minutes later, Farrell (yellow) was again central to Munster's fluid attack.
This time (image 2) Farrell starts the move off a scrum from inside his own half by playing a perfectly-flighted double skip pass (green) out wide to Conway (blue). That leaves the Edinburgh defence scrambling.
Conway makes ground down the right before being stopped. Farrell is one of the first to the breakdown as Munster secure the ball.
From there, the scenario depicted in image 3 presents itself. Instead of folding back out wide to the left, Farrell (yellow) and several other Munster players (blue) stay on the short side.
Murray (green) quickly recognises the call, yet there is still plenty for Farrell to do. He powers his way up-field and note how two defenders are again drawn towards him, which helps create the overlap on his right.
Once Farrell bursts his way through a couple of tackles, it is all about choosing the right pass and he does so as he finds Haley, who plays the ball back inside for the on-rushing Earls for another well-worked score that started with Farrell's initial raking pass.
Later, with three minutes left on the clock, we can again see the shape of Munster's attack (image 4) and how it has Edinburgh in all sorts of trouble.
Murray (red) provides the width on the right. Tyler Bleyendaal (green) is at first receiver with Haley and Hanrahan (broken red) running clever decoy lines off Farrell (yellow), who this time uses all of his brute force to leave Juan Pablo Socino on his backside to score his second try of the night.
Castres should, in theory at least, provide a much stiffer test for Munster but with their back-line clicking into gear at just the right time and Farrell edging back to his best, they should have too much fire-power.
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