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Ireland v South Africa: Ferris thinks outside the Boks

By Niall Crozier

Earlier this year former Ireland coach Eddie O’Sullivan told me that Stephen Ferris’s injury had cost the 2009 British and Irish Lions dearly.

“He would have been the perfect player for the conditions in South Africa — a big, strong, athletic, ball-carrying back row forward. I think Ferris would have been in the Test side,” O’Sullivan said.

Instead, after scoring tries against the Golden Lions and the Free State Cheetahs, the Ulsterman’s tour ended following a training ground injury which saw him miss out on the big matches.

And although he did face the Springboks last November at Croke Park, that too ended in disappointment. Ferris lasted only until half-time before an ankle injury forced him to bow out.

“That was disappointing, but it’s good to be back in the selection and to have been given another opportunity,” Ferris says.

“Declan (Kidney) has given me a chance and I’m itching to get out there.”

While others continue to insist that the World Cup is too far away to be in their thoughts at this stage, Ferris sees it very differently.

“The World Cup is only round the corner so I think everything over the next few months is preparation for us,” he says.

With the 2011 tournament being in the southern hemisphere, Ferris has his sights set on lowering the colours of four nations from that side of the equator in the next few weekends.

There is a real glint in his eye when he says: “We’re definitely looking to get four from four here. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t believe we can win every game.

“It’s going to be tough and there’s going to be a few bruised bodies but we’ll take that on the chin and get back out there week on week.”

He is looking forward to that challenge, and in particular to lining out alongside fellow first-choice back row colleagues David |Wallace and Jamie Heaslip. “Me, Jamie and Wally have worked really, really well over the last couple of years — Grand Slam, Six Nations.

“Jamie has just got a serious engine and can just keep going, while Wally is tremendous at the breakdown and I’d be good in defence, so we just seem to feed off each other very well. It’s great to play alongside those two guys.”

Even though they are minus 13 senior players for this tour, Ferris is under no illusions; anyone who dons a Springboks jersey can play.

“It doesn’t really matter who they bring over, they’re going to be physical and experienced because there’s such strength in depth in that squad,” he says.

But there is evident anticipation as he adds: “If we can win the battle for physicality we’ll definitely come out on top.”

Although injury saw him miss out on the Lions’ Tests against South Africa, he has heard enough about those to know just how hard they were.

“Brutal” is what others have told him.

“We’re preparing ourselves for the same this weekend. All everybody is talking about is the physicality of this game,” says Ferris, who is relishing the prospect.

He is also looking forward to facing Ulster team mate Ruan Pienaar. “Hopefully I’ll get a run out against him and be able to give him a bit of Afrikaans in the ear!”

Ferris regards the 2010 Guinness Series as being vitally important for Ireland as they attempt to reassert themselves after a run of five defeats.

“This is a big chance for us to get back on the winning track. Winning is a habit so it’s important for us to get that going again.

“The mood is good. There’s a lot of positivity, a belief that we can get back to winning ways,” he inists.

That said, Ferris is under no illusions as to how tough the next four weekends promise to be. South Africa are ranked two in the world, New Zealand are ranked one and Argentina finished third in the 2007 World Cup.

“Hopefully we can get a few wins against those big sides. We have a good record against South Africa so there’s no better way to start off a Guinness series than with them at home.”

By working alongside Springboks at club level, Ferris has a fair idea of their mindset. He applauds their professionalism, single-mindedness and commitment.

”They’re very confident, focused and physical. That’s how they play so it’s very important that we match that,” he says.

But Ferris does not believe that southern hemisphere sides are unbeatable. Far from it.

“Everybody thinks that southern hemisphere rugby is the be all and end all, but when you talk to the South African boys they tell you that, if anything, the physicality here is even greater.

“I think that just goes to show that northern hemisphere rugby must be good.”

He knows better than anyone that at international level the pace and physical demands are even greater.

“Every international game is a battle, especially up front, so I wouldn’t expect anything less this time,” he says.

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