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Ulster can handle the Oyonnax roar

By Jonathan Bradley

Published 09/01/2016

Crunch time: Uwa Tawalo of Oyonnax tackles Saracens' Chris Ashton at Allianz Park last month
Crunch time: Uwa Tawalo of Oyonnax tackles Saracens' Chris Ashton at Allianz Park last month
Ulsterman Chris Farrell helped defeat the French outfit last week

While Ulster never quite made it to the Stade Charles Mathon on their last visit to Oyonnax, one man from the province knows just how intimidating a venue it can be.

Having signed for Grenoble, Oyonnax's local rivals, at the beginning of last season, former Ulster centre Chris Farrell gets a hotter reception than most when making the short trip across the Rhone-Alps region and says his one-time teammates can expect an intimidating atmosphere tomorrow (1pm kick-off), the original game postponed due to the Paris terror attacks.

The Fivemiletown man, still just 22-years-old, was a starter when Bernard Jackman's side ran out bonus-point winners against Ulster's Champions Cup challengers last weekend but it is his away day debut last season that lingers in the mind.

"They'd beaten us at home and the atmosphere was something else," recalled the player who won a Schools' Cup with Campbell in 2011.

"They have these temporary stands and you come out from underneath them.

"You're waiting to come out and the crowd are just jumping up and down above your head.

"I remember feeling like it was going to come down around me. It's intimidating.

"Hopefully the boys experience something like that this weekend and come through.

"I haven't had anyone on to me for tips yet, I'm sure they watched our game at the weekend though. I think they'll do well, to be honest."

With his side's victory, Farrell helped heap more misery on opponents that are mired in a relegation battle and the former Clogher Valley youth suspects that Johann Authier's men may have their attention focused elsewhere.

"It's an interesting one to see how Oyonnax will come out," he said.

"For the Top 14 teams, a lot of them if they feel like they're out of Europe, then they'll quickly turn their attention to the league because that's what's most important but Oyonnax at home will never be easy.

"Whenever I was 19 and I was still at Ulster you would look at the Top 14 and you'd get results like Oyonnax beating Stade Francais or Lyon beating Toulon and you'd wonder how that happens but once you're over here it's a bit easier to understand.

"You have to be so strong at home. It takes a while to get used to but it is a massive, massive factor over here.

"They're a lot like us. The whole town gets behind them. It's definitely not one where you can look at it and say that you're guaranteed a bonus point or anything like that.

"They'll come out firing no matter who turns out for them. It's a tiny town, not really a town at all, but everyone in these places here loves their rugby.

"You go to the markets on a Sunday and if you've won everyone is as happy as can be.

"It's awesome. Even last weekend after the big win I went down and was pulled into a bar for oysters and wine.

"After a loss you just try and stay in the house! That's what it means to the fans in this part of the world."

While he'll be an interested spectator this weekend Farrell, who seemed set for a fruitful career at his native province before an ACL injury stalled his progress, has no plans to parlay his impressive form into a return home.

"I'd grown up in Ulster and all I wanted to do was play for Ulster.

"I just felt like I needed a change, a clean break after the injuries. Choosing to go to France, the culture change and rugby change, it was obviously going to be a big worry but luckily for me it's worked out better than I could have hoped for.

"I've another year left so we'll see how it goes for the rest of this season and into next before weighing things up. At the minute I'm just enjoying it too much to consider anything else.

"Maybe last year I was under a bit of pressure because I didn't have a contract for this season yet and I was talking to teams in Ireland about coming home but I'm pleased with my decision to stay.

"I'm reaping the rewards at the minute."

Belfast Telegraph

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