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Peter Bills: Elsom is the latest to hail fabulous Ferris

They’re two of the biggest hitters in world rugby. They’re big, tough and hard as hell. They play the same role for their countries and both have the word ‘Winner’ ingrained in their minds whenever they go out.

What is more, between now and the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, Ulster’s Stephen Ferris and Rocky Elsom of Australia are going to be seeing more and more of each other.

Injuries permitting, there will be a meeting later this year in Test action and next year comes the big one — Australia v Ireland in the crunch World Cup pool game. No prisoners to be taken there, that’s for sure.

At 1.97m and 112 kgs, Elsom is just the bigger of the two. Mind you, Ferris is hardly a shrinking violet at 1.93m and 109kgs. And as they say, it’s not what you’ve got, it’s how you use it . . .

Both are at the very top of their games, burly, powerful men not afraid to dish out the punishment and take it.

At 27, Elsom has the greater experience against 24-year-old Ferris, not least because the Australian had a season overseas with Leinster last year. He loved it, enjoying the challenge and stimulation, on and off the field.

But one of the players he saw during that year-long sojourn in the northern hemisphere left a deep impression on the Wallaby international. And this week, as he prepared for the Brumbies’ latest Super 14 match, against the Stormers in sunny Cape Town, Elsom remembered the name of that young player who had so impressed him.

His name was Stephen Ferris.

“I think he is very good as a player, already one of the best around,” said Elsom. “His work in defence has been really good. He seems to me like a player you probably rely on a bit in the team and it’s really important to have guys like that in the side.

“I remember watching a few games last year and it might have seemed like a lot of other guys in those matches were more noticeable perhaps than Stephen. But to me, that’s often the sign of a very good player. He does so much work in all the phases, much of it hard and unseen stuff at close range, that you don’t often see it. But his teammates would tell you the value of it.

“I think his work rate and tackling are outstanding. In an Irish back row of Jamie Heaslip, David Wallace and Ferris, Stephen is crucial. Jamie is very strong on the ball, a good ball carrier and he likes to attack ball in hand and make the yards.

“Wallace’s role is obviously different in many ways but he’s like that, too; enjoys getting the ball and running with it. Then you have Stephen doing much the same plus all the covering, working and tackling. And he makes the hard yards at close range into the opposition pack.

“When we played Ireland at Croke Park in November, the three of them made it extremely hard for us to get around them. That trio together were by far the best back row in the 6 Nations competition last year and their roles will be crucial again against England at Twickenham this weekend.

“Ferris is a very strong player and you’ve got to respect a guy like that. When I was with Leinster, we played Ulster a couple of times and he was pretty good off first phase in particular. I didn’t see much of him during the Lions tour but I hear he went well until he picked up an injury.

“For sure, he is a big guy and a very good player.”

Ferris will be eager to confirm all Elsom’s stirring words about him at Twickenham this afternoon. Mind you, he’ll be up against the one unit of the England side that has looked the part consistently this year: the back row of James Haskell, Lewis Moody and Nick Easter.

No shy, retiring types in that trio and Ferris — plus of course, Heaslip and Wallace — will know what to expect.

But Stephen Ferris is now regularly catching the eye of good judges right around the world, as Rocky Elsom’s testimony confirms. He has much to play for, and much to live up to, at Twickenham this afternoon.

Injuries permitting, there isn’t a single reason why he shouldn’t continue to make such a good impression.

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