Ferris: My best is still to come
Stephen Ferris makes no secret of the fact that although 2008/09 was a season in which he enjoyed notable personal successes, he was disillusioned with the situation at Ulster.
A Grand Slam winner, yes. A British and Irish Lion, yes. A happy and fulfilled club player? No. Quite the opposite.
So the enthusiasm with which Ferris talks about life as an Ulster player these days is something which should delight his many fans at Ravenhill.
There is an altogether more positive attitude, a greater sense of belonging, a pride and satisfaction in being involved with a team clearly making progress and intent on playing the sort of football he relishes.
And with Ireland facing Australia on Sunday at Croke Park, his happy demeanour and his announcement that he has never felt better could not be more timely.
“Never better,” is Ferris’s response when asked how he feels
He has worked hard and the prospect of facing the two-times World Cup winners as a member of the Irish team that swept the northern hemisphere boards last season clearly delights him.
While to the casual observer last season’s Stephen Ferris story was one of success upon success, the truth is rather different. He was injured in the early stages of the winner-takes-all Millennium Stadium epic with the Welsh and, as a result, denied the opportunity of partipating in most of what was Irish rugby’s biggest and most high profile match.
His involvement in the Lions’ summer tour of South Africa was cut short, too, by what he calls “a stupid training injury”.
But now with Sunday’s tete a tete with Australia hastening on, he is in great shape, mentally and physically.
“It’s great to have come back in with Ulster and while it probably took me a few games to get going and find a bit of match fitness and form in the past couple of games, now I’m really looking forward to it,” says Ferris.
“It was up and down with the Lions but now I just want to forget about that and move on with Ireland. We’ve got a great opportunity now.”
Ferris concedes to having got what he calls “a couple of good bounces of the ball with the couple of tries I scored for the
Lions”, adding: “You just have to take those when they come.”
Explaining that he was probably in the best shape he had ever been when he left for South Africa, Ferris acknowledges the part played by the Ulster training staff in helping him reach that level of preparedness.
“They were great. They really worked with me so that when it was time to go I was in really great nick,” he revealed.
And Ferris enthuses over new-look Ulster.
“Brian (McLaughlin) has come in and given us a bit of belief,” he says.
“It’s great. It’s a really happy camp. Last year we weren’t playing attractive rugby at all. We were kicking a lot of ball away.
“To be honest, it wasn’t great to play in and even when we were winning you didn’t feel great coming off the pitch.
“But this year there have been a couple of times when we’ve lost tight games, but we’ve played some cracking rugby. It has just been a complete turn-around; far more enjoyable.
“It’s a fantastic team to be involved in. A lot of people are getting the ball in their hands, which is great to be part of.”
Ferris is an athlete. He loves running, ball in hand, at opposing defences. He’s fit and he’s fast, as South African opponents discovered. He is hoping that over the next few weeks Australia, Fiji and the Springboks discover just how powerfully and tellingly he is able to do that.
“Obviously the backs get a lot more ball than we do, and in their case it’s usually in a bit of space. But hopefully if an opportunity like the ones I got during the summer come along during this autumn series I’ll make the most of it,” Ferris adds.
Any such contribution would be a bonus. First and foremost he will be there in the role of an enforcer. He loves that, too.
“Teams talk about smelling blood when they’re on top, like when you’re destroying a maul, disrupting their scrum or making your big hits,” he adds.
And it is both telling and encouraging that Ferris dismisses any suggestion of Ireland not having played together recently as being a factor.
“An excuse if we lose,” is how he treats that line of thought, suggesting that he is wholly positive ahead of the battle.
“With the training we’re doing, we look very sharp, so I don’t go with that,” said Ferris. “It’s an excuse and I don’t think we can use it if we don’t win.”