Irish rugby followers’ fingers are crossed that Stephen Ferris is given the go-ahead to face Italy in Saturday’s opening match of the Six Nations’ title defence.
The Ulster flanker was due to undergo a check today to determine his fitness.
The Irish squad reconvened last night and with the countdown to the weekend now underway Ferris does not have time on his side.
A leg injury picked up on Ulster duty against Bath in their Heineken Cup group match on January 23 was duly diagnosed as bone bruising. The Irish team’s medical advisers gave him last week off, telling him to rest and avoid subjecting the injury to weight, strain or pressure.
But over the weekend it emerged that his chances of being fit to face the Italians were thought to be no better than 50-50 and with the squad being reduced to match-size proportions tomorrow the fear is that Ferris may not be ready.
The blindside’s all-action style means he puts his body on the line each time he plays. His physical courage and total commitment come at a price, however, with injuries an inevitability.
Last season he bowed out of Ireland’s Millennium Stadium Grand Slam decider against Wales after picking up a hand injury early on. During the Lions’ summer tour of South Africa a knee injury — that one picked up in training — forced him out after two games. And in November, in the third of the three Autumn series fixtures, he was a first-half injury casualty in the Croke Park clash with South Africa.
Friends’ schoolteacher and Ulster schools’ rugby doyen, Barney McGonigle, who discovered Ferris during his time as a student at the Lisburn seat of learning, said: “It’s a two-way thing. The way he plays is what makes him special and no-one would ever want to change that.
“But it also means that he’s on the front line every time he goes out on the pitch.
“I was in contact with him by text to congratulate him after Ulster’s win in Bath and there was nothing in his reply to suggest any serious injury problem at that stage. So things have got worse in the interim.
“Let’s just hope that if he isn’t available his absence will be for one match only.
“He would be a huge loss to Ireland if it was for longer than that.”