Ferris on track for Italy
Ulster ace Stephen should be fit for Six Nations opener after all
Ireland may be reeling from a growing injury crisis but Ulster flanker Stephen Ferris looks set to boost their spirits by winning his fitness battle to be ready to face Italy in the RBS 6 Nations opener against Italy on Saturday week.
Declan Kidney was rocked once again last night by the news that Tommy Bowe and Jamie Heaslip would miss the clash with Italy. That came on the back of Andrew Trimble's injury along with the absence of Shane Horgan (kneecap), Rob Kearney (knee) and Geordan Murphy.
The news on Ferris was more upbeat, with Kidney saying he expects the big blindside to have recovered from the ankle injury he suffered in last weekend's Heineken Cup rout of Aironi in Italy.
Speaking at yesterday's launch of the RBS Six Nations, Kidney said: "Stephen Ferris looks like being okay for the Italy game."
While the injuries have cast a cloud over Ireland's preparations, captain Britan O'Driscoll has warned his Six Nations rivals that he's far from finished and he's "buzzing" ahead of the big kick-off.
The Irish captain admits the physical toll of the tournament is greater than ever, but despite celebrating his 32nd birthday last week, he says that his determination to lead Ireland to success still gets the adrenalin flowing.
Playing in the tournament for a 12th successive year, O'Driscoll insists all teams are suffering amid the demands of the game.
"The Six Nations has definitely got harder over the years. The game has become harder, more physical, more demanding," he said at yesterday's tournament launch in London.
"If you asked 100 players in the Six Nations how many of them were 100pc fit, 99 would say they had some niggle and the other person would be a liar.
"It's impossible to go out 100pc fit these days because of the physicality, both at provincial and international level.
"But adrenalin is brilliant at getting you through those small ailments that you have. The feeling you get in a winning dressing-room makes you forget the sore muscles and bones for a couple of hours."
O'Driscoll continues to excel in the Test arena, yet how much longer the Lions centre will continue operating at the highest level is a subject that generates plenty of debate.
Seeing no reason to place a time frame on his international retirement, O'Driscoll is happy to take a pragmatic approach that will enable him to enjoy what time he has left.
"I've stopped putting time constraints on myself as to when I have to give up," he said. "As long as the body is still feeling good and the mind is backing that up, I don't see any reason to give up.
"I'm really looking forward to the Six Nations because I love this competition. My interest hasn't waned in any way shape of form over the last decade or so.
"If anything I probably have more of a hunger for it now in the knowledge that I don't know how many more years I will have left.
"You treat each Six Nations like it could be your last. In doing so you thoroughly enjoy each moment, whether it be playing or on the bus journey to and from games. The small things give me as much of a buzz now as they did 10 years ago."
O'Driscoll admits the trip to the Italian capital has the potential to be "difficult" but insists his team-mates are looking forward to it.
"Players do enjoy it there -- it's a good atmosphere in the stadium. But if you slip behind, like we did two years ago, it can be a difficult place to fight your way back."
Meanwhile, four Ulster players are in the Wolfhounds starting side for the clash with Scotland A at Netherdale.
Chris Henry will captain the side from No 8, with Ulster colleague Willie Faloon named alongside him in the back row where he packs down on the open side.
Ulster's other two starters are Ian Humphreys and Nevin Spence who have been selected at 10 and 12 respectively.
As for young Spence, his progress has been rapid and, as with his Ballynahinch clubmate Faloon, this latest recognition will do his self-esteem no harm at all.
With Connacht's Gavin Duffy dropping down from the senior squad to wear the Wolfhounds number 15 jersey and Leinster's Fergus McFadden stepping up to provide cover, another Ulster player, midfielder Ian Whitten, now fills the resultant vacancy for the trip to the Scottish Borders.
Whitten is one of three Ulster players on the bench, the others being stand-off Niall O'Connor and hooker Nigel Brady.