Connacht centre Tom Farrell says his time in the Ireland camp during the Six Nations has made him an even better player.
Farrell (25) admits he was disappointed not to be earn his first Ireland cap over the competition, but he still has ambitions of cementing his place in Joe Schmidt’s squad before the World Cup later this year.
The former Leinster underage player has been the star of Connacht’s midfield this season and his six tries from 12 starts have helped put Connacht in the hunt for the play-offs.
He is also Connacht’s top ball-carrying back in the PRO14 (135) and the league’s leading offloader (26), but he is hopeful of adding to his success in the remaining four league games after a learning experience with Ireland.
It was brilliant. It was probably an eye opener as to the standard that’s required.
"I went up there and I knew it was going to be a step up but I probably didn’t realise the size of the step up, the speed of things, and the intensity of it all,” said Farrell, who joined Connacht from Bedford Blues two years ago.
“It’s definitely improved me. The speed of my reaction time, my decision-making under pressure. Coming back to Connacht it’s not a massive step down, but I feel that I have that bit more time on the ball now. My decision making under pressure and my reaction time is that bit better, I feel.
“There is a lot of rugby to be played before the summer, and hopefully (I get a chance), it’s an aim in the back of my head.
"Not getting picked in the Six Nations was obviously a bit disappointing but you have to trust Joe’s decisions.
"He knows the combinations, personnel who have a lot of caps between them and are tried and tested, and you have to respect that decision.”
On Friday, Connacht host Benetton Rugby at the Sportsground, where a win could see them pull clear of Conference A’s joint third placed Cardiff Blues, who face a tricky Welsh derby with Scarlets. Farrell feels it’s all to play for.
We’re in a real good position on both fronts, so hopefully we can keep pushing on in the next few weeks and finish the season on a high.