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Fermanagh's Farrell will flourish on Six Nations debut, says Jackman

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Bernard Jackman is confident Chris Farrell can rise to the occasion on his Six Nations debut against Wales this Saturday because he has watched him step up to the plate before.

Having signed the relatively unknown Fermanagh native for Grenoble in 2014, the former Ireland hooker switched him from inside to outside centre and made him a mainstay of his backline.

Farrell responded to the faith invested in him, and Jackman recalls a performance at the beginning of the 2015-16 season in which the young midfielder particularly stepped up for him.

Away at Clermont, and relatively new to the Top 14, the visiting side fell to an early 15-point deficit. The script was written for them to be beaten out the gate, but Farrell hadn't read it.

He has been named in the Ireland team for his first Six Nations start having concluded his French stint after three seasons. He has impressed with Munster and won two caps in November, but this is the biggest game of his career and his former coach has no doubts that he will thrive.

"He would have been up against (Wesley) Fofana. We went 15-0 down. French teams away from home tend to go into their shells a bit and end up getting thumped," the former Ireland hooker said of the game.

"Chris just kept wanting the ball, going at them and at them and at them. It was a positive, because he hadn't come with a pedigree. He was really good up to Irish Youths, everyone was talking about him and he disappeared for two years.

"He had a lot of bad injuries and Ulster had a load of centres like Stuart Olding, Jared Payne, Luke Marshall - he was blocked.

"He said, 'I want to get away, I don't want to join another Irish province, I want to get my degree' and he came over.

"You go from Top 14 to Champions Cup and Champions Cup to international rugby, you need people who want to be actors - who want to play a role. He has that character to do it.

"He's a very friendly, amicable guy off the field and when he gets on it he changes a bit. He has a Test match animal-type personality. I wouldn't see the pressure getting to him."

Farrell is expected to be named alongside Bundee Aki in the midfield, with Joe Schmidt sticking with the rest of the backline that beat Italy with Fergus McFadden replacing Jordan Larmour on the bench.

Up front, Andrew Porter is set to start in place of the injured Tadhg Furlong at tighthead prop and, while he impressed against Italy, Jackman admits that he faces a big step up.

"It's a big test for him," the Dragons coach said. "But everything we've seen so far, he's stepped up.

"He's lucky if he plays that he's got Rory Best and a world-class loosehead, no matter who that is. But it is a hard game to play with a certain amount of experience. I rate him massively, but his ability to pin down that scrum will be a key factor. If he pins it down, that's an area of potential advantage that Ireland have negated and away you go.

"There will be massive pressure on his shoulders but he's stepped up to every challenge so far. This is his biggest."

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