Belfast Telegraph

RaboDirect Pro12: You just ain’t seen nothing yet: Ferris

By Niall Crozier

Ulster’s Stephen Ferris has sent out a chilling post-World Cup warning to opponents: “There’s a whole lot more to come.”

It says something about the standard the blindside flanker demands of himself that despite having had an excellent tournament in New Zealand he dismisses a suggestion that he is back to his very best.

“No, I’m not. Definitely not. There’s another 20 or 30% in me, definitely,” he replies.

Depending on whether he is playing for or against your side, the prospect of Ferris plus an additional 30% will have you tantalised or traumatised.

“When I came back after six months out I felt like I was finding my feet in the first couple of games, so I think there’s a lot more in the tank,” Ferris insists.

A knee injury sustained back in January in the course of Ulster’s 43-6 Heineken Cup rout of Aironi at Stadio Zaffanella sidelined him until August.

With time in which to book a place on the plane to New Zealand fast running out, finally he made his long-awaited comeback on August 20 when he put in a 20-minute shift against France in Dublin.

A week later, by which stage his inclusion in the World Cup-bound 30 had been confirmed, he lined out against England at the Aviva Stadium in what was Ireland’s final warm-up match before flying out for the event-proper. Significantly he played the full 80 minutes.

That was again the case in Ireland’s first two Pool C fixtures against the USA and Australia which meant he had gone the distance – improving each time – in three successive Tests.

With coach Declan Kidney justifiably confident that Ireland’s back-up players were more than good enough to see off Russia, Ferris was rested ahead of the vital, must-win clash with Italy.

The big number six returned for that one and, as had been the case against the Wallabies, had a blinder. His on-pitch time was 73 minutes.

Against Wales in the quarter-final he played for 75 minutes. To have batted the full innings – or as close to it as makes no difference – in a run of matches of such intensity and importance proved his restoration to rude good health.

“I came home happy just to have got through a competition,” he admits. “I went on the Lions tour (2009) and that ended early for me. Ulster got to the quarter-final of the Heineken Cup last season, but that ended early for me, too, so I played no part in the knock-out stage. And my Magners League involvement also ended early.

“So just to have played those games at the highest level and come through unscathed was a huge relief. Fingers crossed I’ll be able to play all the way through a few more competitions,” he says. The whole of Ireland will add ‘Amen’ to that.

When the RBS 6 Nations Championship kicks off on February 5 he hopes to be packing down in the Irish back row alongside Leinster pair Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip. Ferris is a good friend and huge admirer of both.

“Some people have said that Jamie didn’t do as much as he used to but he took a huge amount of line-out ball for us and took a lot of heat off our second rows as a result. I thought he played really, really well,” is Ferris’ assessment of the No 8’s World Cup.

“Sean was outstanding for us throughout. I really enjoyed playing alongside him. I think the three of us worked really well together so hopefully we’ll be there as a back row a few more times in the future.”

Again a loud ‘Amen’ will echo through the four proud provinces of Ireland.

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