Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Ferris can prove to be a Lion at heart

Stephen Ferris

Ulster sensation Stephen Ferris has every chance of making the Lions Test team, according to Syd Millar.

Syd, a veteran of Lions tours in 1959, 1962 and 1968, is ideally placed to reflect on what it takes to be a success in South Africa.

And he truly believes that the qualities of forward Ferris will come to the fore.

“When the Lions get there they are going to need big, strong, powerful back row forwards,” says Ballymena man Millar.

“Stephen came through the Six Nations Championship with flying colours and the crucial thing is that he’s a player at the top of his game.

“All players need that wee bit of luck and by that’lI mean staying free of injuries so providing he stays injury free there’s no reason he doesn’t make the Test XV.

“I’m sorry Stephen’s Ulster team-mate Rory Best didn’t make it though for he was very consistent through the Championship,” added Millar.

Ireland’s better than expected representation — they have 14 going to South Africa — according to Millar is indicative of where the

country now stands in world terms and there’s no better man when it comes to explaining just what makes being a Lion so special.

He says: “To be chosen from all the players in the four home countries as a Lion is a reflection of your own ability and the contribution you have made on the field of play.

“But to be chosen for the Test side is to be the creme de la creme, a huge honour, the ultimate for a player from these islands.

“To play well and win matches is the icing on the cake.”

Not surprisingly the man who coached the 1974 Lions in South Africa when with Willie John McBride as captain they won three Tests and drew one, highlights unity as a vital ingredient on any tour.

“There were Lions tours in the past when there were splits, but with men the calibre of Ian McGeechan and Paul O’Connell at the helm I don’t forsee any problems.

“For me O’Connell is an excellent choice as captain. He’s been excellent with Munster and he has the ability to lead from the front.

“It’s vital that the players bond well and get on well as a team and I’ve no doubt O’Connell will see to that.”

South Africa can often be a difficult country to play in, mainly because of the climate and the high altitude especially in Pretoria and Johannesburg.

Just how well the Lions cope in this demanding environment will have a massive bearing on the outcome so too will their ability to come up with a settled Test XV early on tour.

For Millar it’s a genuine concern and he questions the wisdom of a 10-match tour.

Never afraid to speak his mind, Millar added: “I’m still convinced that 10 matches isn’t enough. Years ago we didn’t play a Test until we had as many as a dozen games under our belt.

“I’m not for one minute suggesting that we go back to those days, but a 10-match tour is cutting things too fine.

“It leaves the captain and coaching staff with little time to weld the squad together, making sure they are a genuine Lion and that they can pull on the jersey and play for each other.”

So much has changed since the Lions toured South Africa in 1974.

When they left these shores they didn’t even have an official team doctor until one of the players Ken Kennedy stepped into the breach making a massive contribution both on and off the pitch.

“Years ago some critics said the Lions were an anachronism, finished but now here they are bigger than ever and I wish them every success,” concluded legend Millar.

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