Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Fiery Ferris wants to see fight

Stephen Ferris speaks with a refreshing honesty and openness about Ulster rugby.

A member of Ireland’s 2007 World Cup squad, he’s a strong running flanker who played a significant role in Ireland’s unforgettable 2009 Grand Slam season.

An automatic choice for the Lions, injury cut short his tour within days of arriving in South Africa.

He scored his first Lions try on June 3 against the Golden Lions, but was then forced to withdraw from the squad on June 9 after he tore the medial collateral ligament in his right knee during a training session.

But he’s battled back and is again a crucial figure in an Ulster side battling to keep its Heineken Cup aspirations alive against Edinburgh at Ravenhill this evening.

He sets himself high standards and expects nothing less from his colleagues.

“We’ve got to get back to playing the game with total commitment, passion and aggression.

“We have to believe in ourselves for now the signs are we have a side beginning to take shape.

“Providing we retain the players we have and add to that we shouldn’t fear anyone,” he said.

Tonight’s game has been described by some as Ulster’s most important game since 1999 and Ferris isn’t about to disagree.

“It’s certainly the most important match I’ve played in. It’s an opportunity for us to stay in contention and hope that Stade slip up in their last two matches.

“If that doesn’t work out then the Amlin Cup represents another opportunity for us to move forward.”

Ferris makes the point that Ulster played some of their best rugby of the season against Edinburgh in Belfast and still lost.

At least twice Ulster had two one-on-ones under the posts and still managed to squander glorious try scoring opportunities.

In the Heineken Cup match at Murrayfield Ulster were outclassed, but still managed to come away with a losing bonus point.

In many respects those two games sum up Ulster’s season and the video will have made for painful viewing.

But at least if it concentrates the mind it might just provide the inspiration for what lies ahead this evening.

Past meetings against Edinburgh offer Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin little comfort.

For in the last 10 games between them, only twice have they been separated by more than a converted try and that includes a 16-13 Edinburgh win at Ravenhill back in September.

It could be argued that Ulster have upped their game since then and in fairness they have shown the ability to conjure up some free-flowing back play.

Given a free rein against Stade at Ravenhill, a rejuvenated Ian Humphreys ran the show and who’s to say he can’t do the same against Edinburgh.

Ulster have nothing to lose and it could well be a case of fortune favouring the brave.

Brian McLaughlin readily concedes that Ulster’s fate is no longer in their own hands.

Frank and honest as ever, he said: “We’ve got to be honest and say that our performance in Edinburgh has put us in a position where we’re relying on the Scots doing us a favour.

“But first we’ve got to beat them on Friday night at Ravenhill which won’t be easy.

“But providing we scrape a result then we have to travel to Bath and Stade will find that Edinburgh at home will fight tooth and nail.

“We’re pushing away here and we’re emphasising the importance of the Magners League.

“The first place qualification for Europe is still a possibility but at the same time we would be happy to be still involved in some competition after the group stage.

“But if we have to go into the Amlin Cup then it’s not the end of the world as far as we’re concerned.”

The reality is that tonight’s game is an Amlin Cup play off as neither side realistically harbours any remaining Heineken Cup hopes.

Even if Ulster record successive bonus points, they could only reach 19 points and since the current scoring system was introduced in 2003/2004 only one team has reached the quarter finals with that total.

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