Friday 24 November 2017

Ferris eager to test himself against best

Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Fronting up to Richie McCaw has left many an opponent looking like Quentin Crisp in drag, so declarations of intent tend to be made from behind cupped fingers.

Stephen Ferris, though, won't be inclined to curtsy if, as expected, he is named in the Irish back-row for Saturday's tilt at the All Blacks.

The Ulster No 6 has never started an international against New Zealand, but did see action as a replacement -- albeit in the second-row -- when Paul O'Connell went off with a dead leg during the 2008 Autumn International in Croke Park.

He anticipates "a tough day at the office" now against the Tri Nations champions and a particularly illuminating afternoon operating in such close proximity to McCaw.


The All Blacks captain is, arguably, the most explosive open-side the game has seen and will break Sean Fitzpatrick's New Zealand record of caps (92) on the same patch of real estate (albeit now renovated and rebranded) on which he made his international debut in 2001.

Yet, while McCaw's greatness is indisputable, he also has a name for testing the alertness of officials at ruck time. Indeed, while Ireland could have zero complaints about Jamie Heaslip's red card in New Plymouth last June, they would respectfully point out that McCaw flopping through a side-gate onto the ball might just have been the red rag that got the Irish No 8 a mite unreasonable.

Ferris says he would "cherish" the opportunity of playing against a man of McCaw's stature now and articulates a kind of grudging respect for how the great New Zealander might be inclined to stretch the rules.

Asked how he would react to that black No 7 shirt taking a shortcut in from the side of a ruck next Saturday, the Dungannon man responded in parliamentary language.

"He's one of the best at it in the world," smiled Ferris. "You've just got to see a situation and try to deal with it as best as possible. He gets away with a lot of stuff but, in fairness to him, he's very good at it.

"So you just have to deal with that. If there's a ball there to be won, I'll try my best to get there."

Ferris admits that the negativity spawned by uninspiring displays against South Africa and Samoa has stung the Irish squad. In fact, he suspects a certain loss of perspective in some of the post-game punditry.

Two years ago, a similar atmosphere sat heavily on Ireland's autumn schedule, yet the following spring, Declan Kidney guided the squad to a Grand Slam.

"I definitely think there has been a lot of negativity," Ferris reflected at the team hotel in Killiney yesterday. "And, you know, some of it I don't think is right. At the end of the day, we got beat by a couple of points by the world champions. We hit the post to draw the game. Gave away an intercept (try).

"Then it was difficult against Samoa, but at least we got back on the winning track. If you beat Samoa by 50 points, everybody thinks 'Ach, should have beaten them by 60'.

"You know you can't win. I don't know what you guys see. But the ball was mighty greasy. It was very very difficult.

"But we're professional rugby players. When it's raining, you've got to adapt.

"And you're not going to beat Samoa by 60 points when the weather's like that. They're a big, physical team. I think if it's the same, we'll adapt a lot better this week."

Ireland have, of course, never beaten the All Blacks and -- as such -- the psychological challenge this week is every bit as imposing as the physical contest.

Ferris denies there is any deficit of confidence in the camp after recent performances and believes that the key to an upset may be found in the mechanics of the set-piece.

Both Ireland's scrum and line-out were under consistent pressure against the Springboks, so significant improvement is required.

"We just need to hold onto the ball, get our set-piece working well and we'll be a completely different side," said Ferris


"Personally, I'm feeling great and I think a good few of the lads are in the same boat. We've been great as a team over the last couple of years, everybody's stuck together.

"We believe we can beat them (All Blacks) any day we play. We've proved we're a world-class team in the last couple of years. Okay, a few results in the last few months haven't gone our way.

"But beating somebody like New Zealand would show the world what we are capable of. Every player wants to test themselves against the best and I know that New Zealand's back-row is unbelievable at the minute.

"Testing yourself against that kind of quality is always a good marker of where you are in world rugby.

"If I get an opportunity to do that, I'll definitely try and put a marker down."

Irish Independent

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