Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Ireland v New Zealand: All Blacks hold no fears for Ulster star

Stephen Ferris

Stephen Ferris has neither fear nor misgivings ahead of what will be a huge test on Saturday.

The All Blacks, the Tri-Nations champions and the team continuously ranked number one in the world rugby ratings, are coming to Dublin riding the wave of a Twickenham victory over much-improved England and an encore in the form of a seven-try demolition of Scotland in Edinburgh.

If Ferris is apprehensive, he hides it well, talking in terms of outplaying the New Zealanders.

“We believe that we could play them week in and week out and beat them. That’s the spirit of the Irish team. We’ve proved that we’re a world class team over the past couple of years.

“We’ve had a few results in the last few months that haven’t gone our way, but we just need to get back to winning ways and beat somebody like New Zealand to show the world that we are capable of mixing it with the best,” he says, making it all sound very straightforward.

In his heart of hearts, however, he knows it won’t be.

His only face-to-face encounter with the Kiwis was two years ago when he joined the Croke Park fray as a replacement in a match watched by 77,500.

Ireland, currently smitten by their over-priced tickets fiasco, would be delighted to see two-thirds as many in the Aviva Stadium this Saturday evening.

“I’ve never started against the All Blacks. I only came off the bench to play in the second row because Paul O’Connell got a dead leg the last time they were over. So I don’t have too much experience of playing against them,” Ferris points out.

“But watching them, obviously they’re a world class side and very difficult to beat.”

That November 2008 Test finished 22-3 to the visitors, who scored 12 unanswered second-half points.

But although no-one realised it at the time, that defeat marked a turning point for Ireland. A week later they beat Argentina 17-3 and then embarked on a run which saw them go through 2009 unbeaten, the zenith being the completion of the Grand Slam.

With Argentina due back in Dublin on November 28, Ferris would like a repetition of what happened in 2008/09, though preferably without a further defeat by the All Blacks ahead of another victory over the South Americans.

In other words a victorious finale to the Guinness Series to herald the start of a lengthy sequence of wins leading up to the World Cup. He is confident Ireland can achieve that.

“We’ve got a good lot of work done in training. We just need to hold onto the ball, get our setpieces working well and we’ll be a completely different side,” he says matter of factly.

Despite his optimism, the fact remains that Ireland have never beaten New Zealand, a draw in 1973 being their best result in 23 attempts dating back to 1905.

There has also been considerable criticism of Ireland’s performances in the 2010 Guinness Series.

But Ulster’s blindside Lion stresses that the concession of an intercepted try and the width of an upright cost Ireland a draw against the World Cup holders 11 days ago, following which they beat a physically strong Samoan side in poor conditions.

“We got beaten by a couple of points by the world champions and if we’d beaten Samoa by 50 points everybody would have been thinking, ‘Ah, should have beaten them by 60’. We got the win and got back on the winning track. Hopefully we can get another one this weekend,” is Ferris’ take on things.

“At the end of the day it’s all about results,” he points out.