Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Ulster Rugby's Stephen Ferris will meet surgeon before decision on future

Last chance: There are fears that Stephen Ferris's career could be over
Last chance: There are fears that Stephen Ferris's career could be over

An imminent meeting with a surgeon will decide whether or not Ulster star Stephen Ferris's career is over.

Amid rumours as to his demise, Ulster Rugby yesterday refused to confirm or deny speculation that the 28-year-old flanker's ankle injury is forcing him to quit.

When asked about the player's status the terse reply from Ravenhill was: "We aren't in a position to say anything at this stage."

Ferris's agency, Esportif Ireland – previously known as Cornerflag Management – confirmed that a decision as to whether he is quitting or can continue will be taken after he meets his surgeon.

"There are still ongoing tests on the ankle," his management company said.

"Having not played for a number of weeks, and not going on Ireland's tour, decisions will have to be made very soon on the best move forward for Stephen."

Ferris – a Grand Slam winner and British and Irish Lion in 2009 – has fought a lengthy battle against that career-threatening ankle injury, with his IRFU employers offering time, support and encouragement in the hope of helping their world-class number six back to fitness.

In January he was given yet another short-term Ulster contract extension, effectively giving him until the end of the season to prove he could make a recovery and return from the injury which up to that point had sidelined him for 14 months.

Ferris suffered the injury playing for Ulster against Edinburgh on November 2, 2012 – ironically in a match in which he had hoped to persuade then-Ireland coach Declan Kidney of his fitness to participate in that month's Guinness Series matches against South Africa and Argentina at the Aviva Stadium.

But having set out intent on showing Kidney that he was ready to return to the international stage, instead a stricken Ferris ended up being helped from the pitch seven minutes into the second half. And now the fear is that this injury may prove to have been one too many for the 6ft 4ins (1.93m), 17st 8lbs (112kg) powerhouse.

Hopes soared when, having been sidelined for 16 months, finally he returned on March 14 past, replacing Nick Williams for the final 17 minutes of Ulster's 26-13 PRO12 victory over Scarlets at Ravenhill.

Ferris announced his return in typical fashion, his first action being to get up in pursuit of a perfectly-judged Ruan Pienaar box-kick following a line-out on Ulster's 10-metre line. Cleverly, Ferris waited until the visitors' fly-half Aled Thomas had caught the ball rather than risking tackling him in the air.

As soon as the 29-year-old Welshman's feet touched the ground, Ferris enveloped him in a bear hug of a tackle, driving him back in a manner reminiscent of his memorable 'hit and carry' on Will Genia in Ireland's 15-6 World Cup victory over Australia at Eden Park, Auckland on September 17, 2011.

As recently as November, Ferris was wholly confident that he was on the way back. And on March 14, that optimism appeared to have been well founded after all.

Sadly that 17-minute cameo against Scarlets on a night when he entered the fray to a rapturous welcome from the 14,000-strong Ravenhill crowd now appears to have been another false dawn.

Since then his on-field time has been limited to first half appearances against Edinburgh and Cardiff Blues in the PRO12, followed by the final 25 minutes of that ill-fated Heineken Cup quarter-final clash with Saracens which may now prove to have been his last ever match.

In the course of 106 Ulster outings he has scored a dozen tries. He has 35 Ireland caps and but for injury there would have been a great many more.

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