Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

No fear for Ferris in clash of titans

Former Irish flanker Trevor Brennan was no pacifist when it came to back row warfare.

So when the controversial ex-Leinster firebrand — nowadays earning his livelihood as a successful hostelry proprietor in Toulouse — steps in to up the ante ahead of Sunday’s Ireland-Australia showdown, expect fireworks.

Brennan reckons there is only one loose forward in world rugby who hits harder than Ulster and Ireland’s Stephen Ferris.

His name? Wycliff Palu.

On Sunday afternoon, Ferris will be wearing the green number six jersey. Palu will be donning the gold number eight shirt.

Add captain Rocky Elsom on the Australians’ blind side and young David Pocock — who replaces veteran George Smith at seven — and you have quite a reception committee for Ulster’s Lion and lionheart.

Ferris smiles broadly at the prospect. Fear? Forget that; he is relishing the prospect.

Initially he announces that he is back to full fitness and now having had a few competitive games in which to hone himself, he is in great shape for this weekend. Confirmation of a clean bill of health is good news for Ireland, if not Australia.

For an unmistakable glint comes into his eye as he turns his attention to Messrs Elsom and Palu.

“I played against Rocky at Ravenhill and he got a man of the match performance. He’s just a top quality player. He did so much for Leinster last year that I’ve a lot of respect for him.

“But there’s nobody that I fear. I’ve played against him before I think it’s going to be tit-for-tat the whole way through the game. If we do meet I’m sure it will be a good encounter,” Ferris says.

Well, ‘good’ is one adjective...

He has played against Palu, too, that confrontation having come in the summer of 2008 when the then-emerging Ulster player was called up to join the Irish team Down Under.

“I ended up coming on and playing seven and probably did a lot more tackling than I normally would at six. Palu is very physical and he’s good with ball in hands, too.

“I watched him against England at the weekend and he’s a good player. We’ll have to stop him and I think we’ll be trying to do that all over the park.

“I’ll be trying to stay out of his way,” Ferris joked. “If I see him in front of me I’ll try to sidestep him!

“No, I’m not going out looking for big hits against him. I’m certainly not going to go out to try and kill somebody in the first five minutes.

“But if somebody does run down my channel I’ll just make sure I put them back.

“If there’s an early tackle or a big collision or a scrap, it does get your blood boiling. It gets the crowd going, too, and that can lift you.

“It’s good to get stuck in early and as everybody knows, massive games like these start and finish with the forwards. If we don’t front up it will be a tough afternoon for us.

“But there are a lot of guys raring to go.

“As I said, I’m not going out looking for it. But if it comes around, I’ll grab it with both hands.”

The least known of the trio Ferris and co. will face is Pocock, the only change to the team that beat England last weekend.

Clearly he has a big future and, importantly at this stage of his development, a big admirer in coach, Robbie Deans.

“He has a background of, if not hard

ship, then some realities that he’s been brought up with that the rest of us haven’t been been exposed to,” Deans says.

Certainly he did, for Pocock grew up in Zimbabwe where his family had a farm. A gun for self-defence was never too far away.

When two neighbouring white farmers were murdered and the hordes came looking for the Pocock farm the family upped and left for a new life in Australia.

Six years to the day after arriving there he made his Australian debut against the All Blacks.

On Sunday he, Elsom, Palu and the others will face the Northern Hemisphere champions, Ferris et al.

That back row contest is going to be very, very interesting.

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