Friday 13 December 2019

Farrell's long route to the top pays off

Monday Breakdown

Chris Farrell of Ireland is tackled by Samson Lee of Wales
Chris Farrell of Ireland is tackled by Samson Lee of Wales
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Chris Farrell's story is one that will give hope to any Irish player who initially fails to make the grade on these shores.

The 24-year-old hasn't taken the conventional route to the Six Nations stage, and by doing so, he proves that it is possible.

Joe Schmidt deserves his fair share of the credit too, because during Farrell's three years with Grenoble, and particularly in the final months, the Ireland head coach regularly kept in touch and offered feedback on the midfielder's performances in France.

Back in November, Farrell showed that he was capable of playing at this level, but on Saturday he hit new heights in what was a stunning man of the match display.

Filling Robbie Henshaw's boots is an unenviable task but Farrell did so, and more.

His crunching tackle on Leigh Halfpenny after just 10 seconds set the tone for an outstanding performance from a man who is essentially Ireland's fourth-choice outside centre.

When he signed for Munster, some unfairly viewed Farrell as a glorified bosh-merchant but he is continuously showing that there is so much more to his game.

Claiming Johnny Sexton's restart after two minutes illustrated his athletic ability, and while he carried powerfully all afternoon, he also defended manfully.

As for the bits that we don't see, it was interesting to note afterwards that Rory Best and Jacob Stockdale both spoke about how good a communicator Farrell is.

The fit-again Garry Ringrose will come back into the equation for Scotland, but right now, Farrell is the man with a firm grip over the number 13 jersey, and rightly so.

Ireland prove they have decent strength in depth

While it wasn't quite on the same scale, there were shades of the build-up to the World Cup quarter-final loss to Argentina, in the manner that Ireland's depth pool was tested.

Losing three Lions, the question had been asked: would Chris Farrell, Andrew Porter and James Ryan handle the occasion? The answer was a resounding yes.

It said a lot about how good the scrum was, and in particular Porter, that Ireland did not miss Tadhg Furlong, the best tighthead in the world.

Ireland won all five of their own scrums, and one against the head. Cian Healy confirmed that he is back to his best, with another barnstorming performance.

When a new front-row was introduced off the bench, the standards did not drop.

Six minutes from the end, with Quinn Roux also contributing, John Ryan enjoyed the finest moment of his Ireland career when he helped get a huge shove on which resulted in a crucial scrum penalty against the head.

Having had a tough time of it in Paris, this was a particularity sweet redemption for the Munster prop.

Last week, there was a nervousness about Schmidt when he admitted that he "hoped" that his squad was better prepared compared to three years ago, and his players stepped up and proved that they are.

Narrow defence must be rectified before it's too late

Ireland have conceded seven tries in three Six Nations games and all seven have come as a result of their defence being too narrow.

After Teddy Thomas and then Italy exploited Ireland out wide, Wales did so again on Saturday by scoring three tries with 31pc possession and 25pc territory.

Andy Farrell will have been tearing his hair out at some of Ireland's defending, and given how dangerous Scotland and England are on the flanks, rectifying the narrowness will be top of the agenda over the next two weeks.

"At times, we got a little narrow in defence and we got narrow because a few times we smashed them in defence but a couple of times we leaked a few yards and then it's hard to get your width," captain Rory Best explained.

This Ireland team are striving for perfection under Schmidt, and while Saturday's enthralling win was mostly positive, there is still plenty of room for improvement.

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