Ferris ready to storm Canadians
There is a story about Stephen Ferris that still makes me chuckle.
Two years ago, when the young Dungannon star had been called up to the Ireland camp after a string of stunning performances for Ulster, Paul O’Connell walked into the team gym to see the then 21-year-old Ferris bench-pressing a ridiculous weight.
“Who on earth is that chap?” is the doctored version of O’Connell’s bewildered response in his best Limerick brogue.
If the Munster giant didn’t know Ferris back then, he does now.
The word from the Ireland camp since the players met up almost two weeks ago is that no-one has been too keen to see the 23-year-old running at them in training.
If his form since his stunning comeback against Edinburgh after a long lay-off from a back injury sustained playing for Ireland against Australia in Sydney in June has not been electric, it is clear he has made his presence felt in the Irish camp over the last week.
That impact was enough to convince new Ireland coach Declan Kidney that Ferris deserved a starting place at blindside flanker against Canada at Thomond Park tomorrow (kick-off 5.15pm) despite the alternatives of Alan Quinlan or David Wallace.
Everywhere he has gone, Ferris, who stands at 6ft 4ins and now weighs around 17st 2lbs, has made his presence felt.
Former Ulster coach Mark McCall used to wonder at his genetic make-up. “He’s like a South Sea Islander but from Portadown,” he once said.
This week Tommy Bowe, who at 6ft 3ins and 15st 2lbs is not the smallest wing in international rugby, went even further, hailing Ferris as the strongest man he has ever played with.
“Stevie is an exceptional player – he's the most powerful individual I’ve ever met in Wales or anywhere,” said Tommy Bowe,
“He’s had a few knocks, between the injuries and not getting his chance because of (Denis) Leamy and these people who are in front of him and are very talented players.
“But this is a huge opportunity for him to lay down a marker and hopefully he’ll do it.”
No-one, of course, is more aware of the opportunity than the man himself, not least because, almost exactly a year ago when the returned from the World Cup with his knee in pieces, questions were being asked if Ferris would play again.
He admits it was a difficult period in his life.
“It was mentally tough and there were a few dark days, I have to admit,” said Ferris, who had no qualms about going to the World Cup despite concerns over his knee.
“Through the World Cup, we were training even harder than the team and I was pretty good. If I had played, then I might have had a reaction after the game.
“It was when I came back and played a couple of games for Ulster that I realised that the knee wasn’t right and I got it fixed.
Although he has only had three starts for Ulster under his belt this season, Ferris is not concerned that may be a little undercooked for the international stage.
“I got a lot of running done so I feel fit enough. So I will get myself into the game nice and early and just kick on from there.”