Stephen Ferris says Andrew Trimble can still make Rugby World Cup
Stephen Ferris is expecting a big season from Ulster after watching his old side secure a 28-6 bonus-point win against the Ospreys to open the PRO12 campaign.
They travel to Scarlets this weekend looking to start the season with consecutive triumphs for the first time since former boss Mark Anscombe's men reeled off 13 straight victories to start the year in 2012-13.
Ferris, the former Ireland flanker who was forced to retire through injury last summer, was encouraged by the performance against last year's top Welsh region and is happy to see Ulster put a stuttering pre-season in the rear-view mirror.
"It was perfect," he reflected. "Two warm-up games and they didn't perform. Why? Because they're playing 30 players on a match night. Nobody can get any consistency going.
"They played young Peter Nelson, who I've watched a number of times playing out-half for Dungannon, and he had a great game. Stuart McCloskey taking over the goalkicking took a bit of pressure off.
"It was just a good team performance, they didn't do anything spectacular. They did the basics right and it was enough.
"Going forward, they're going to have a successful season and be pushing for that top four again."
One area that Ferris feels will provide a real challenge is Europe, where Ulster are looking to bounce back after a disappointing campaign on the continent last time around.
Ulster's pool exit ended a run of four straight appearances in the knock-out stages and they have been handed another tough draw with Toulouse, Saracens and newcomers Oyonnax.
"In terms of Europe, we've got a tough group but it's the Champions Cup now, everyone has a tough group," stated Ferris.
"They just have to keep building nicely, there's going to be guys filtering back in from the World Cup squad when that's over and done with and fingers crossed they can keep it going."
One player already at Neil Doak's disposal is Andrew Trimble after the winger was left out of Ireland's plans for the World Cup but Ferris still expects to see his old friend playing some part at the tournament, especially after the back-three, Dave Kearney aside, struggled against England on Saturday.
With Wales' weekend win over Italy highlighting the attritional nature of Test rugby - both Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Webb will now miss the tournament after shipping injuries - Ferris is sure those on stand-by for Joe Schmidt will be required.
"Everybody was very surprised that Andrew Trimble was left out," he said.
"He ended up getting 70 minutes in the win over the Ospreys so it might be a bit of a masterstroke by Joe Schmidt to leave him out and let him get a couple of games under his belt.
"(Against England) he may have got 50 minutes and as soon as someone picks up a knock (he's ready). I expect Trimby to be, whether it's a back-three player or a centre who gets injured, the first called in."
Trimble was not the only winger left on the outside looking in in terms of World Cup selection with future Ulster outside back Charles Piutau cut from the New Zealand squad.
The 23-year-old had been in good form during the Rugby Championship, with speculation mounting that his impending move north had left him with an uphill struggle to make Steve Hansen's 31-man panel, but he refuted such notions when speaking to media in his homeland and insisted he is committed to making the switch.
"I've no regrets at all," said Piutau. "It's what I thought but the coaches reassured me that (the Ulster move) wasn't part of it.
"I knew when I made that decision that this may be something that counts against me, but I'm happy with what I decided and now I'll move forward."
Not able to arrive at the Kingspan before the summer of 2016, Piutau has not been granted permission to continue in Super Rugby until that date and has been linked with a short-term move to the Aviva Premiership.
The 17-times capped All Black confirmed that he will make an announcement on his plans for this season in the coming weeks.