Former Ulster centre Chris Farrell could cause Connacht untold trouble on Saturday night if he continues to build on the superb form he showed in winning 10 Irish U20 caps.
The 23-year old from Fivemiletown in Tyrone decided to head to France a few years ago hoping a change of scene would offer a fresh start after two seasons of injury.
The deal initially was just for one year but Farrell wasn’t long making an impact and Bernard Jackman didn’t delay in signing him up for two more seasons.
“That first season went quite well. I got a lot of game-time, and played maybe 22 games in the Top 14 and then whatever else in Europe.
“I was looking to leave Ireland because I had a lot of injuries.
“I was looking towards England primarily at the start and then France just popped up. Bernard wanted to chat so I went down to Dublin and it all happened very quickly from then.
“I came out to try and get an injury-free season under my belt after having two bad years with injury in Ulster. That worked out pretty well.”
He has continued that form into this season and has chalked up 10 appearances so far in the Top 14 and four in a European Challenge Cup campaign which has taken them to Saturday’s quarter-final showdown with Connacht at Stade des Alpes.
The 6’5” centre has loved every minute of it, the lifestyle, the rugby and, most of all, managing to steer clear of serious injury.
“I didn’t get a massive amount of game-time in Ulster, coming from two injured seasons.
It’s very physical in the Top 14. It’s very fast, depending on what time of the year you are playing.
“For the first three months of the year, it’s warm and the ground’s hard, and it’s running rugby. That’s awesome, that’s what I like to play in and it suits our game.
“And then you go into November, December, January part of the season and things change in France. The weather becomes an issue, and it’s gets cold especially here in Grenoble.
“We have a good surface, and it will never be wet. But in other places you go, you get difficult conditions and it slows down a little bit.”
Farrell, who played for Ireland U20s at the Junior World Cup in South Africa in 2012 but who missed the tournament in France the following year through injury, has another season at least to go in Grenoble.
The arrival of an Irish province this weekend will rekindle friendships from home.
As well as Farrell and head coach Bernard Jackman, Munster’s Mike Prendergast is also on the coaching ticket. Loosehead prop Denis Coulson and scrum-half James Hart also feature.
But the primary task for the exile this weekend will be steering Grenoble one step closer to silverware. Connacht, though, have other ideas.
Connacht prop Ronan Loughney said: “We have gone to France before and had some really good wins and had some great experiences over there and we have risen to the challenge before, so we will be hoping that we do the same again.
“Everywhere we have gone there has been a great travelling support so yeah, it is a massive opportunity but an exciting prospect ahead.”
And captain John Muldoon says the province would relish the opportunity to host a semi-final against Harlequins or London Irish in three weeks’ time.
“It would be great for a semi-final for us. It would be great to get us out there again in this competition.
“We have been here twice before, Harlequins in once and Toulon once, it is something we have done before but I think if we do get there this will probably be our most realistic chance of ever getting to a final — it is certainly exciting times.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved