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Shortcomings in Ulster's recruitment policy

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Farrell's ascent puts Ulster's recruitment policy under more scrutiny

The secret of success is to be ready when your opportunity comes

Few would have thought that by the end of the third round in this year’s Six Nations, Chris Farrell’s fitness would be the hottest topic in Irish rugby. Before the Wales match, many more raised concerns about his ability to fill the considerable boots of Robbie Henshaw, yet he took his opportunity and turned in a stand out performance.

And Farrell has been on quite a journey since he made his debut for Ulster over six years ago. He played only five times in three seasons for my old club before heading off to the French second tier to relaunch his career. And his departure barely caused a ripple at an Ulster well stocked with centres. In the season Farrell made his debut for Ulster they reached the Heineken Cup Final and boasted Paddy Wallace and Darren Cave at centre. With Ian Whitten, Luke Marshall, Nevin Spence -who lost his life in a tragic farming accident in the Autumn of 2012- and Jared Payne providing depth and options in midfield.

In contrast Farrell’s ascent to test “man of the match” winning centre has caused huge waves at Ulster – given Farrell now plays his club rugby in Munster red. Even more than questioning the decision to let Farrell go many fans simply can’t understand why his return to Irish provincial rugby wasn’t with Ulster.

Whilst Stuart McCloskey and Luke Marshall occupy the starting positions in Ulster’s midfield, it was Farrell who Joe Schmidt turned to when he lost Henshaw to injury. And interestingly, Farrell disclosed how Schmidt had been in contact with him during his French exile offering advice and encouragement on his performances. It’s hard to see any Six Nations head coach other than Schmidt having that level of interaction with players let go from their top tier.

Add this to the fact Ulster very nearly let Iain Henderson slip through their grasp – British and Irish Lion was literally on route to university in Scotland – before he got a belated call from Ulster. And the whole policy of recruitment and retention at Ulster has fallen under greater scrutiny.

Ulster’s NIQ (Non-Irish qualified) acquisitions have been flops by any standard -neither Jean Deysel nor prop Van Der Merwe have made any mark of significance. Even the bigger name signing of Marcell Coetzee has made little or no impact as he’s been injured nearly all the time he’s been at the club.

Moving on Les Kiss mid-season was clearly the right move for Ulster, but many fans feel that failing to keep hold of Jono Gibbes is a huge blunder and retaining the CEO and Team Manager who have overseen many of the recruitment and retention mistakes of recent seasons opens Ulster up for more of the same. Farrell’s success has triggered a whole lot more than well-deserved praise for his performance.

Gary Ringrose will nearly certainly replace Farrell at outside centre and maybe barring a returnee or two in the front row and Iain Henderson at lock, expect little further change for Ireland.

Scotland have had their “big performance” of this year’s Championship and I fully expect their bubble to be well and truly burst in Dublin next weekend. Joe Schmidt’s attention to detail will make sure Scottish vulnerabilities are well and truly exposed.

The only risk to what has been an excellent Six Nations so far is that Ireland leave England nothing to play for in their St Patrick’s Day showdown with Ireland. For the Championship it would be nice to see both teams still in it come the final round.

To create something exceptional, your mindset must be relentlessly focussed on the smallest detail

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Farrell's ascent puts Ulster's recruitment policy under more scrutiny