Timely return of roaring Lions can serve to inspire Ulster's bid for double glory
Published 20/03/2014 | 01:30
With only RaboDirect PRO12 trips to Edinburgh and Cardiff between now and their Heineken Cup quarter-final date with Saracens at all-new Ravenhill on April 5, Ulster are entering the crucial stage of the season.
Currently third in the PRO12, their pursuit of a top four finish – and with that a place in the play-offs – is on track.
See off Saracens and they will be into the European Cup semi-finals, too.
They're all big games now and on those occasions supporters, not unreasonably, look to the big-name players to make a difference.
For followers of Ulster's fortunes the names do not come any bigger than Tommy Bowe and Stephen Ferris.
Ireland internationals, Grand Slam winners, British and Irish Lions. Says it all, really – they are two VERY special players.
But both have been smitten by serious injuries in the past two seasons and their resultant absences have robbed Ulster and Ireland – and in Ferris's case the 2013 Lions, too – of their services.
So the fact that both have returned to action after such lengthy spells in rehabilitation could not be more timely.
And not only have they come back – they have done so in a manner that has underlined their delight at playing again and their determination to make up for all that lost time.
Bowe heralded his arrival with a brace of tries in his 40-minute run against Newport Gwent Dragons on February 28. It was as if he had never been away.
Alas his availability came just a little too late for the Six Nations, meaning that for the second season in a row he missed out on participation in that tournament.
But barring any further injury problems, he should be on the plane for Ireland's trip to Argentina in June. Fingers crossed.
Ferris, too, was an absentee from the 2013 and 2014 Six Nations campaigns. But he fared even worse than Bowe, who got back just in time to make last summer's Lions party for Australia where he played in the first and third of the three Tests.
In addition, he started in all three of November's Guinness Series outings against Samoa, Australia and New Zealand.
Ferris was different. Having been sidelined since November 2012, there were serious fears that we might never again see him in action.
But last Friday night, he made an eagerly awaited appearance.
Just as Bowe had marked his return with two trademark tries, followed by a third at the weekend against the Dragons, Ferris instantly delighted the Ravenhill faithful with a thunderous hit on the guests' full-back Jordan Williams, who was driven 10 metres by the powerful flanker.
Two roaring Lions back on board? It's like Christmas has come early.