Hardman Ferris keen to avoid injury-prone tag
Seems like every time we bump into Stephen Ferris these days he's walking wounded. "Everyone talks about me getting injured more than other people," he sighs.
Injuries? They're becoming a bit of a pain in the a***. Literally.
Last month, this awesome collection of physiological destruction was yet again sidelined from his daily duties as a wrecking ball thanks to a -- wait for it -- buttock injury. It was yet another in a worryingly lengthy sequence of bum notes.
Ferris has already reached rock bottom in the injury stakes, of course, tearing the medial collateral ligament in his right knee during a training session before the last Lions tour, later admitting ruefully that his characteristic bloodthirstiness partly caused that particular downfall.
Such a grim irony, then, that his latest injury should occur while he was literally doing nothing.
As Ulster pushed over a scrum beyond the Aironi try-line to claim a bonus point and their Heineken Cup quarter-final berth, Ferris was applauding his front-five who had forced their buckling opponents into the concession of a penalty try.
Suddenly, from left-field, a grizzled Italian prop was sent whirring into Ferris' left knee. If one should seem thankful that it is not the same knee damaged in 2009, think again. His left knee has been equally scarred down the years and hence, like Kobe Bryant, he has virtually no cartilage left there following two 2007 operations. It will certainly shorten his playing career and, perhaps, explains why he plays every game with such violent fervour.
"I knew straight away, I went 'oh, no, I've not done the same knee again'. I was quite worried at the time but 48 hours later, I'm feeling a bit of improvement so that's always a good sign.
"I wasn't braced, my knee jarred and I've no cartilage there either, so it was basically bone on bone. But that's rugby, these things happen. Hopefully it will be fine. It's all about having the injuries and being able to come back from them.
"I had a glute tear recently which kept me out of the Heineken Cup match against Bath away and that took three weeks. I've been kind of picking up things which have been keeping me out for three or four weeks, nothing too serious.
"So hopefully this will be something similar if not even better. I'll get a bit of physio in the Ireland camp this week, which will help me along."
He can't escape the incongruity that having berated himself so often for over-stretching himself -- two of his serious injuries have occurred in training sessions -- he should be floored in such a fashion.
"Exactly," he concurs. "It was unbelievable the way that it happened. It was our fourth try, so as soon as we scored I was coming off anyway. I was like 'ah, no'.
"I know my knee now. I know I haven't done anything majorly wrong, there's no cartilage left there anyway! Which might cut my career short a few years! It is difficult dealing with it. But hopefully I'll get positive results."
Still, regardless of his own painful inconvenience, nothing could overshadow Ulster's uncontained joy after confirming their first successful Heineken Cup qualification campaign since their 1999 success.
"No, no, it was a huge day for Ulster rugby," he affirms. "A day that everybody enjoyed. Now all the guys are excited about the draw because we have the carrot of a home semi-final if we can beat Northampton. It's massive for Ulster rugby."
After the perennial chore of wishing Leinster and Munster rivals well at this time of the year, for once Ferris was a recipient of good wishes including from former club colleague Tommy Bowe, a victim of the Ospreys' bird-brained exit.
"Yes he did shake my hand! The first thing he said to me was congratulations. The Ospreys were unlucky not to get through, but they were in a tough group. All in all, Ulster won five of their six games and we definitely deserved to get through. Now we know what it's all about, we want to be able to be like Leinster and Munster and keep on doing it, year on year.
"It would be a boost for us to go to Milton Keynes. I watched their home game against Edinburgh, they weren't their normal selves. If we could get them on a day like that, it would definitely suit us being in a different stadium.
"But at the quarter-final stage, it doesn't really matter. In England the monkey is off our backs in terms of away results because we've beaten Bath away in successive seasons.
"There's serious confidence in Ulster at the minute, we're playing good stuff. Hopefully we can bring that into that game.
"The Six Nations interrupts it but the excitement of that is hard to beat. And it will lift again for the Heineken, then the World Cup will be another huge lift after that. So it's all about managing your body and getting yourself right for all the big occasions. Because we've so many at the minute."
As Ferris wheels away without too much discomfort to witness Bowe's successful attempt to pour the perfect pint, only the fiendishly early hour stemmed the urge to raise a toast to his enduring health.