Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Ferris in no mood to take things easy before Lions tour

Stephen Ferris will be a key man for Ulster tomorrow night

Ulster's latest Lion will play against Connacht tonight with a ringing endorsement from Matt Williams.

There was some speculation that big Stephen Ferris might be rested with the Lions tour in mind.

But after a chat between player and coach it was agreed he should start.

“Stephen and I had a good chat about what he wanted to do.

“The problem is that if you rest him, he would go to South Africa short of match practice.

“He might then have only two matches on tour in which to nail down a Test place.

“Over there he’s going to have to hit the ground running and there’s no doubt he’s at his best when playing on a regular basis.

“He’ll play against Connacht and after that we’ll decide on the last game against Llanelli Scarletts,” said Williams.

The Ulster coach takes an obvious pride in that he has the youngest starting team in the Magners League while six of the squad are still 21.

“The key for next season is that we must move on to a higher level, but you have to remember also that we lost some decent players at the end of last season,” added Williams.

But in analysing the highs and lows of a season fast drawing to a close, he’s quick to pay tribute to Ulster number 10 Niall |O’Connor.

“He’s improved out of all recognition this season. You saw how well John Sexton played for Leinster (against Munster in the Heineken Cup). Well Niall has another two or three years to catch up with him.

“It’s important that we remain patient and nurture him along, but I’ve no doubt Niall O’Connor is on the way to being a very special talent.

“His defence has improved out of all recognition and it’s important that we don’t rush our young players.

“The alternative is to go out and spend £300,000 or £400,000 to bring in an overseas player, but we don’t have that kind of money so it’s vital we develop our best young players and give them every opportunity to wear the Ulster jersey.”

Connacht, for so long the poor relations of Irish rugby, were on the wrong end of a heavy drubbing when they visited Ravenhill earlier in the season.

But against that they have beaten both Munster and Leinster at home this season and they will relish the prospect of adding Ulster’s scalp.

Coach Michael Bradley must have one of the most unenviable jobs in Irish sport as he continues to battle against the odds.

“We’re looking forward to the match on the basis that we’ve a unique opportunity to make it a third victory over an Irish province this season, something that has so far eluded us in the professional era,” he said.

Despite some strong performances at home this season Bradley is still wary of how clinical Ulster can be, having experienced it at first hand earlier in the season. It’s that level of performance Ulster must strive for if they are to keep on course for a top five place.

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ULSTER: C Schifcofske; T Nagusa, D Cave, I Whitten, S Danielli; N O'Connor, P Marshall; B J Botha, R Best (capt), T Court, E O'Donoghue, R Caldwell, S Ferris, C Henry, R Diack.

Replacements: N Brady, B Young, C Del Fava, M McCullough, I Boss, I Humphreys, R Dewey.

CONNACHT: T Nathan; F Carr, G Duffy, K Matthews, L Bibo; I Keatley, F Murphy; B Wilkinson, S Cronin, R Loughney, M Swift, A Farley, A Browne, R Ofisa, J Muldoon (capt).

Replacements: A Flavin, B McGovern, D Gannon, C Rigney, C O'Loughlin, A Dunne, M Deane.

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