Stephen Ferris — struggling to win his fitness battle ahead of Sunday’s Heineken Cup quarter-final against Munster at Thomond Park – got a timely lift on Tuesday.
The Ulster flanker is one of 15 nominees for European rugby’s Player of the Year Award, won last season by Leinster’s Sean O’Brien, Ferris’s Irish back row colleague.
Currently fighting to overcome the ankle sprain which is threatening to rule him out of Sunday’s crunch, Ferris is one of three Irish nominees.
The others are fly-half pair Jonny Sexton of Leinster and Munster’s Ronan O’Gara — the inaugural winner of the ERC’s Player of the Year in 2010 — who will face Ferris this weekend if the Ulster star is passed fit.
With O’Brien having won the award last season, Ireland would complete a remarkable hat-trick in the event of Ferris, Sexton or O’Gara winning this year’s crown.
While the initial list of 15 nominees recognises the performances from the Pool stages only, the five-man judging panel will have the option of considering players who make outstanding contributions in the quarter-final and semi-final matches for their shortlist and final selection.
Realistically, if Ferris is to have a chance of taking O’Brien’s crown, he must play and get himself noticed this weekend.
A shortlist of five players will be announced following the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup semi-finals, with the winner selected after the Twickenham finals on May 18 and 19.