In Ferris we trust: How Ulster star has stormed into the limelight at World Cup
He is the man that all Irish rugby fans are hoping can help boot Wales out of the World Cup in Wellington this weekend.
Ulster star Stephen Ferris has emerged as one of the stars of Ireland’s Kiwi adventure and carries the expectation of the whole island ahead of Saturday’s all-Celtic quarter-final clash.
The 26-year-old back row forward has made his mark with his ability to grab the game by the scruff of the neck — quite literally in the case of Will Genia.
The sight of the Australian scrum-half being lifted off the ground by Ferris is one of the iconic images of the competition.
And the ‘Ferris wheel’ could just be the crucial part of the juggernaut that steamrollers the Welsh and sends Ireland into the semi-finals for the first time.
It has been a remarkable rise for a player who preferred football or the javelin in his younger days.
Ferris’s first touch of a rugby ball came around the age of 12 when he started at Friends’ School in Lisburn and he only started playing seriously after breaking into the first team. He left Friends’ aged 16 and later took on jobs which included laying driveways for £200 a week.
That was until a call came from Ulster Rugby Academy manager Allen Clarke.
Things moved rapidly.
Soon Ferris was in the Ulster and Ireland sides, but a call-up to the 2009 Lions tour of South Africa brought heartbreak when injury ended his dream.
Now, though, he is back, and a stunning performance in the pool stage win over Australia made headlines around the globe.
Former Irish rugby international Trevor Ringland believes the world is only now realising Ferris’s potential.
“Stephen is a phenomenal player,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.
“We have always known it but I think the world is only now beginning to realise just how good he is. In many ways he reminds me of Ken Goodall, who was another exceptionally talented player. It is great to see him on the world stage and getting the recognition which he deserves.”
With this World Cup likely to be the swansong for players such as
Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell, Irish rugby is seeking a new golden boy. And Ferris is fast emerging as another potential great of Irish rugby.
Nigel Currie, who is director of sports agency Brand Rapport, believes he could become a worldwide star on the back of a successful tournament. He said: “If Ireland can go all the way then it will make Stephen Ferris and all of the other guys superstars.”
His agent Ryan Constable agrees he could go all the way to the top of the rugby financial tree.
“Those sort of things follow on team success, and individuals contribute to success. If Ireland go to a win with him at the heart then there’s obviously this focus on celebrity endorsement.
“He’s already a very marketable commodity as things stand and an Ireland win would only further this — is Stevie Ferris anything like Brian O’Driscoll? No. Is he heading in that direction? Yes.”
Ferris plays club rugby with Dungannon, where supporters have been closely following his exploits in New Zealand.
Club official Philip Stinson said his talent has always shone.
“Stephen came to Dungannon when he became eligible for senior rugby a few years ago and even then his power and pace were evident,” he said.
Ferris by numbers
Weight: 17st 8lb
Height: 6ft 4in
Irish caps: 29