Ulster have promised Stephen Ferris all the support they can offer in his bid to regain fitness and play again.
The Ireland and Lions blindside, who turned 28 two weeks ago, last lined out on November 2 when he suffered an ankle tendon injury in Ulster’s RaboDirect PRO12 clash with Edinburgh — ironically a match in which he was trying to convince then-Irish coach Declan Kidney of his fitness ahead of last autumn’s Guinness Series internationals.
Prior to that, the big number six had been beset by problems with a back spasm.
Repeated comeback dates have come and gone, resulting in Ferris being offered just a six-months contract extension by the IRFU when his previous deal expired back in June. Effectively he has until Christmas to prove he is able to continue, failing which he will come off the Union’s pay-roll.
Back in May, Ferris was confident that he would be ready to resume at the start of the forthcoming campaign. That hope was ditched, however, when a fresh problem arose. Further surgery followed.
Earlier in the year, of course, it had been widely speculated that Ferris was on his way to an unnamed club in Japan.
However his on-going injury problems — coupled with the prognosis of another four months out — saw that come to nothing and in view of those circumstances he had little choice but to accept the IRFU offer he had rejected previously.
Ulster coach Mark Anscombe said: “At the minute Stevie’s in re-hab and just easing through it. He’s out of his moon-boot and he’s got a brace on.
“These are early days but I think if it all goes well we are looking at late November, early December.
“But we’re not putting expectations on him. We’re just supporting him at the moment and hopefully he comes out the right end. That’s all we can hope for.
“Putting dates on him just starts adding pressure. It’s been tough for him; he’s had a lot of setbacks so we don’t want to add to that. The bottom line is that the guy just wants to play rugby so we’ve just got to be there for him when he needs us.
“He’s a good man and I’d just love one day to have him play a few games for us. But at this stage we’ve just got to make sure that he does the right thing for himself and looks after his body.”
Still on the injury front, wing wizard Tommy Bowe will be sidelined for four to six weeks, less than originally feared, following analysis of the results of tests on a wrist ligament worry — coach Anscombe was dreading the possibility of being without his 2009 and 2013 British and Irish Lion for 12 weeks.
Instead it is very much a case of no damage whatsoever to the province’s cause for with 29-year-old Bowe entitled to a break anyway following his June/July exertions with the Lions he was not scheduled to return to duty until October 4 when Ulster face his former club, Ospreys in round four of the RaboDirect PRO12 at Swansea’s Liberty Stadium.
And with Ireland facing Samoa, Australia and New Zealand in their three autumn internationals on November 9, 18 and 24, barring further injury the Monaghan maestro should be able to add to his 51 caps collection.
Bowe was an absentee for all of last season’s RBS Six Nations Championship, the cruciate ligament knee injury he suffered while playing for Ulster just before Christmas having ruled him out of action for four months.