Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Ulster Rugby: Stephen Ferris issues powerful statement of intent

Ulster's Stephen Ferris

Stephen Ferris yesterday issued a telling statement of intent — from inside a tent.

And although not playing in tomorrow night’s Aironi-Ulster Magners League match in Viadana — he is rested in keeping with the IRFU’s Player Management Programme — his words will resonate among those colleagues who jet out shortly after lunchtime today.

Speaking in east Belfast at the launch of Podium4sports’ new outdoor sports centre, the Irish and Lions blindside said he reckons Ulster are better placed to make an impact than at any stage since he enlisted as a professional with his native province.

Reeling off the list of forwards now available, Ferris, who turned 25 a couple of weeks ago, radiated enthusiasm.

“You’ve plenty of options in the pack. Look at the second row — Johann Muller, Tim Barker, Dan Tuohy, Ryan Caldwell — and then look at the back row.

“It’s great because there’s so much competition with Robbie Diack, myself, Chris Henry, Willie Faloon, Pedrie Wannenburg and then guys like TJ Anderson sticking their hands up as well.

“That’s all good. Competition keeps everybody on their toes and it means there’s good cover, too.

“In the past, if we got injuries, we struggled because we didn’t have the squad depth to handle that. Sometimes, if there were a few niggles, we found it difficult to cope.

“So it’s great that now we have a number of international-class players to call on.”

Highlighting the part played by Springbok pair Muller and Wannenburg in beefing up the Ulster pack he added: “They were our stand-out players in the warm-up games and they had big matches in their first competitive fixture against Ospreys.

“They bring a bit of experience and a bit of class to our team.

“I think Humph (Ulster Operations Director, David Humphreys) has done a great job in bringing these guys in to bolster things up.

“With Ruan Pienaar — another quality player — coming in to play behind that pack, that’s not a bad line-up,” Ferris smiled.

“It’s all about building up the squad and hopefully it will mean we’re able to produce a great team.”

But the big number six isn’t in any mood to sit back in the hope that it will all happen, as if by magic. As far as he is concerned, the hard work is an on-going process.

“At the minute I don’t think we’re anywhere near where we can be, though hopefully, come Heineken Cup time, we’ll be peaking. We need to really focus on that, keep building every game and try, week on week, just to get better and better and better.

“That’s what all the good sides in the world do — they keep improving,” he said.

“Maybe that’s been what we’ve done in previous seasons — played well one week but then, in the next, we’ve not been so good. What we need now is to develop consistency

“We’re setting our goals high and that’s fair enough because when I look at our team on paper, and compare it with others, I know which team I’d rather be in.

“When supporters open their programme and look at the player profiles I reckon they must feel pretty good about it. I know I do.

“There’s a lot of expectation that probably hasn’t been there in previous years, But I think the boys will thrive on that.”

Asked if that expectation will bring pressure, he replied: “I like pressure. The more pressure, the better I play for some reason.

“And I think that given the experience we’ve got in now — and because we have players who, like myself, enjoy pressure — we’ll be focused, in the zone and able to handle it better than before.”

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