Ulster Rugby's Stephen Ferris is back in a jersey and set to end injury hell at Ravenhill
Ulster star ready for return to action
Stephen Ferris is back in an Ulster jersey and set to end his injury hell.
The former Lions flanker is poised to feature in Ulster's Pro12 encounter with the Scarlets at Ravenhill tomorrow.
Ferris has been out of action since sustaining an ankle injury in November 2012 and is unlikely to start the game but his return to the bench will be a massive boost to Mark Anscombe's side.
Ulster have a Heineken Cup quarter-final against Saracens looming on April 5 and the return of Ferris will mark the end of a frustrating period of rehabilitation for the player. Scrum half Ruan Pienaar said: "I think everyone is excited. We have seen how hard he has worked and I think he is raring to go and I am really excited. Everyone will be cheering him on once he gets back on the pitch."
Ulster assistant coach Neil Doak said Ferris would be monitored in training and he admitted the medics were "obviously cautious".
"We're just playing it day by day," he said. "He hasn't played a lot of rugby in the last couple of seasons but he has been training really hard over the last wee while and they just want to make sure and that he is as close to 100% as possible."
Ferris isn't the only player on the comeback trail for Ulster. Nick Williams and John Afoa are also set to return for the third-placed side.
Neither of the New Zealanders have featured in Ulster's last two games — with Afoa home for family reasons and Williams having been effectively suspended after his trip back caused a ripple or two in-house.
Both were last involved in the narrow win over the Ospreys at the start of February so it is likely that they both may be named on the bench against the Welsh.
Williams’ future with the province had been thrown into doubt when he missed the recent Pro12 win over Treviso in Italy after returning to New Zealand.
The back-row forward was subsequently not considered for selection for the next Pro12 game against the Dragons.
The only major selection issue for Anscombe's starting side appears to be at out-half where, with Paddy Jackson expected to be with Ireland, the options are Pienaar, James McKinney and possibly even Jared Payne who filled in there in the latter stages of the 38-8 thumping of the Dragons two weeks ago.
With Pienaar believed to be starting at scrum-half it would appear that Anscombe's option is likely to be the wildcard that is Payne, particularly as McKinney is on duty with Malone on Saturday.
In the backline, Tommy Bowe — who scored twice on his comeback game against the Dragons and who was briefly with Ireland earlier this week — is expected to be one of the starting wingers with the superb Rory Scholes likely to get another run-out on the left flank which means Craig Gilroy is now on course to be benched.
Darren Cave is set to be at outside centre alongside Stuart McCloskey, who made his debut against the Dragons and gets the nod with Luke Marshall sidelined after another concussion.
Up front, Roger Wilson will be making his 150th appearance for his home province.
Wilson could well be one third of an unchanged starting back row which will include Robbie Diack and Sean Doyle.
“Everybody else is sitting with their feet up (this weekend),” Doak added, referring to tomorrow’s battle.
“And we've got a great chance with this extra game.
“We've got a nice window here but we're going to have to work hard to get the job done.”
The Scarlets have seven games left in the Pro12.
They are 10 points behind fourth-placed Ospreys, who occupy the last play-off spot but have a game in hand.
Scarlets head coach Simon Easterby said: “If we can take points from the next two away games we'll certainly be well placed to challenge the top four.”