103 months later, Farrell and Henshaw reunited in Ireland's midfield
That Ireland U18 team had some top prospects.
Back in April 2011, Chris Farrell (inside centre) and Robbie Henshaw (outside) were the midfield pairing as Ireland took out France and England to win the European Under-18 championships.
Captained by Luke McGrath, who was starting scrum-half and primary goal-kicker, Ireland were too good for France in the 'elite' semis before defeating an England team containing Henry Slade and Jack Nowell 17-8 in the final. Also in that Ireland team were Dan Leavy, Ed Byrne, Rory Scannell, Stuart Olding and brothers Ed and Bryan Byrne.
103 months later and we will finally get to see Farrell and Henshaw in another Irish midfield. Andy Farrell has named the pair to start against Wales in the first game of the Autumn Nations Cup but we now have Farrell in his preferred position of outside centre. The will be up against the Welsh duo of Owen Watkins and Jonathan Davies, and both Irish players may well be against each other for a starting role alongside Bundee Aki at Twickenham, the following weekend.
"It’s the first time I’ve played with Robbie in a while," said Farrell. "I’m really looking forward to playing with him. I’ve played with the other centres in Bundee and Ringer (Garry Ringrose), but this is the first time we’ll have a chance to show what we can do together as a partnership.
"What he brings, I think, compliments me in a way. We worked hard for each other and we scramble for each other, when we have to. I’m really looking forward to that actually."
Farrell made the bench for the Guinness Six Nations loss to France, which cost Ireland the championship, but he gets his chance to impress from the start, on Friday. He will be hoping to click with Henshaw, again, as quickly as he has with new Munster teammate Damien De Allende.
"He's brought a different dynamic to the team we have down there," says Farrell of the World Cup-winning Springbok.
"There’s so much about him that’s so different to me that I can learn from. He’s so, so calm on the ball. He’s a player that just gives himself so much time. All the top players do that. When I look in here and you see Johnny Sexton does that, a lot of our 10s do that. Give themselves time on the ball.
“They glide, they see things earlier and they get to the space easily. He’s one of those players who just seems to forever have time on the ball. His quality is something I can learn from. I’ve loved playing with him whenever I’ve had the chance so far."
While Farrell and Henshaw have some shared playing history, at least, the Irish back row has been rejigged and will debut, as a unit, against Wales. We have Peter O'Mahony at blindside, Josh van der Flier in from the cold at openside and Caelan Doris getting a chance in the No.8 jersey.
"A lot of these guys, as you can see, are Test ready," O'Mahony comments. "Very, very hungry to learn, get stuck in and involved, which is great. It is daunting to come into an environment.
“It’s a relatively new group, but there’s still a lot of guys around for a long time... To be fair to the people who have been here for a while, we’ve tried to make it as easy as we can but you’ve got to get the buy-in from them and the interest. That they’re hungry to learn and get stuck in."
Asked if it is a tough ask for a new unit to go into a game against the likes of Justin Tipuric and Toby Faletau, O'Mahony says he has 'huge confidence in the way the guys have performed'.
"Obviously Caelan, Will Connors, Josh has been around for a long time now, even though he’s still a young man," says O'Mahony. "You’ve guys like CJ obviously who are very experienced, training-wise, Test match-wise.
"You mightn’t always get to train in minutes together or play in minutes together, but it’s the time you spend chatting in camp, outside the 50, 60 minutes you might get on the pitch twice a week. You have to work hard off it as well to get aligned.
"As I said, you take huge confidence in the performances that guys have put in, but it’s the little bit extra that you need off the pitch to gel at the weekend, which is what we’re in the middle of at the moment."
Add to the mix James Lowe coming in for his Test debut on the left wing and first starts for Jamison Gibson-Park (scrum-half) and Ronan Kelleher (hooker) and Ireland have a lot of top-level unknowns thrown into the mix.
It may not happen for all of them, but Ireland need most of these fresh faces and new combinations to gel, and quickly.
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