Chris Farrell says he is not superstitious. Yet the prospect of playing in a World Cup can do funny things to a player.
A few weeks ago the Ireland squad were asked to fill out questionnaires detailing any special requirements, such as specific brands of tea, that they might want for the long stay in Japan. With Joe Schmidt yet to finalise his 31 man World Cup squad at the time, Farrell steered clear of filling out the form, afraid of tempting fate.
When friends and family asked about the World Cup, he would quickly try to change the subject. Even his parents were not permitted to book flights — despite the rapidly inflating costs as the tournament inched closer — until Farrell had it in writing that he was on the plane.
When the email finally dropped into his inbox the night after Ireland’s warm-up clash with Wales in Cardiff, the overwhelming feeling was that of relief, followed by a quick phonecall to his parents to share the news.
“It was a long day because we certainly weren’t told of when to expect it (the email) time-wise, we just knew it was probably going to come before Monday at some stage,” said Farrell.
“I stayed in Carton House on Saturday night because we didn’t get back from the game (v Wales) until late.
“There was a room available for Sunday (night), but that was probably tempting fate as well, so I packed my bags swiftly and went to my girlfriend’s house in Dublin. So I sat with her watching a movie, and by about eight o’clock until 10pm I was refreshing my phone constantly, just watching the phone, watching the clock, trying to figure out when it was going to come or if it was going to come or not. So it was a long, long day.
“I had no idea what movie we even watched.”
Given Farrell’s journey up to this point, it is no surprise that the player chose to err on the side of caution. With things not working out at his native Ulster, he took a gamble on a move abroad. At the end of the 2016-2017 season, he was still earning his crust with Grenoble in the French Top14. They would get relegated that season, his last in France before coming back to Ireland to join Munster.
His progress since then has been rapid. He won his first Ireland cap against Fiji that November, and put in a man of the match performance against Wales in his first Six Nations start the following spring.
“As I went to France I thought the dream of playing for Ireland had gone. And then to come back and get my first cap and get my first game in the Six Nations. Every time I sit back and look at those milestones, I reflect on it and think ‘I never thought this would happen, I never thought that would happen’.
“It has kept that portfolios of ‘never thought it would happen’ growing to this point.
“Hopefully that continues and I can make more of those.”
That Six Nations bow was the highpoint of Farrell’s career at the time, the opportunity presenting itself after Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw were both ruled out through injury.
The jersey was now Farrell’s, but the dream was swiftly put on ice after he tore his ACL during an open training session. Over the course of next year, the centre would successfully rehab the injury, return to provincial action the following November, and play his way back into Schmidt’s plans.
In arguably the most competitive area of Schmidt’s squad, the 26-year-old will battle in out for a spot in the team alongside Henshaw, Ringrose, and Bundee Aki.
In his mind, he is not going to simply make up the numbers.
“I certainly haven’t got anything written down (in terms of goals) but we do so much visualisation as players.
“In game weeks, before training even, we would be lying down and visualising certain things that are on the board that we need to learn for training to put into a game week.
“We’re watching, say, Jonathan Davies’ clips and visualising myself seeing those pictures at the weekend and knowing how to deal with them better because I’ll think I’ve seen them before.
“That’s no different. I lie in bed at night now and I see myself playing in the World Cup – running out against Scotland or Samoa or running out in the quarter-final if that is ever to come.
“Of course we look ahead. It’s hard not to stop your mind looking far ahead. It’s just natural to let that go sometimes.
“So yes, I have goals that I see happening. Hopefully, I get some of them.”