Stephen Ferris takes questions with a look of calm, if not outright satisfaction.
Ulster in the Heineken Cup quarter-final against Munster. The Six Nations beckoning. And healthy knees.
Correction: healthy knee.
“Everyone is asking me about the knees.
“It’s the knee; it is not the knees. It’s just the left knee. I haven’t had any trouble with it.
“I felt it a bit against Scarlets at home in the PRO12, one of the first games back after coming home from the World Cup. I felt it slightly but I played the following week at Leicester and didn’t have a problem. I haven’t had any issues with it, fingers crossed. Every week I’m doing more training and every week it feels it is getting better.”
In 2007, Ferris tore the cartilage in Argentina and had an operation but the knee remained troublesome.
Another operation followed, then came two trouble-free years.
“I had that bad knock on it against Aironi away in January last year and that put me out for a good bit.
“I had another operation on it and there was a couple of things growing in there from previous injuries and getting bangs on it, week in week out, when you don’t actually realise you are doing any damage.
“Then it was rehab after that operation, I got a good pre-season and then followed into the World Cup.”
The big flanker points out that he’s always come back fitter and stronger, but rehab is still a challenge.
“It was very difficult. There were a few dark days when you go home after getting up — you might have to go in early because the strength and fitness guys are with the squad so you’re maybe in at 8am doing your weights and rehab — and then you’re at home with a bag of ice on your knee for three or four hours of the day.
“There were dark days especially when you’re doing so much and it was not necessarily getting better. I always felt I was going to get back playing rugby and get back to my normal self, and thankfully I did.
“When you’re on your own you still have your craic in the physio room but when you get home, you know you’re not hanging around all day. Normally you’re going in at nine in the morning and not getting home until 4 or 5pm in the afternoon. Instead you’re in for an hour or two in the morning and then you’re at home, sitting on your own.”
It wasn’t as much fun when Ireland went out to Wales at the World Cup. The better team on the day, says Ferris.
“I think they played really well. They were probably the better team, they had a very good long kicking game, they nullified our big ball-carriers, but our set-piece was pretty good and we had opportunities to put points on the board.
“There were some try-scoring chances in the first half but we just weren’t as clinical as we had been against Australia. This is a different game, a different competition, it’s probably going to be two slightly different teams, and it’ll be about who’s better on the day. We believe we can go to the Aviva and get the result.”
Ferris is full of praise for his back-row colleagues.
“They are two fantastic guys. I roomed with Seán (O’Brien) for most of the World Cup. We had hardly played any rugby together before the World Cup and we probably thrive playing alongside one another.
“He is one of the best, if not the best, ball carrier in world rugby. I have played against him a few times against Leinster and he is a different animal. Jamie (Heaslip) is probably a more intelligent player very skilful and is able to put players away into gaps and into holes. He is also a tremendous ball carrier, a great lineout option as he has shown for Ireland in the last couple of years.”
When you ask about the absence of David Wallace, he notes Ireland were without him in New Zealand as well.
“Throughout the World Cup our back row had been playing so well, we didn’t really need a natural seven, as such,” says Ferris. “Seán (O’Brien) has been playing seven for Leinster with Kevin McLaughlin at six.
“Rugby has moved on a bit from having an out-and-out seven but yet David Pocock and Richie McCaw seem to get a lot of change out of stealing ball. It also depends which referee you have and how the breakdown is refereed. It is something we probably didn’t target as we should have against Wales in the World Cup and we’ll be working very hard come this game.”
He adds his view that one of their direct opponents next weekend, Sam Warburton, was unlucky to be sent off in the World Cup semi-final: “From my opinion a yellow card: get on with the game, he comes back on and it’s 15 against 15. It spoiled the game slightly but it’s in the rulebook that that’s a red card. Everybody has their own opinions, but for me it would have been a yellow card. He’s not a dirty player.”
Ferris says he and his colleagues have put the World Cup behind them: “It was a massive disappointment for all the players. When the dust has settled you can look back on it and say ‘yes we played well in the World Cup, we done ourselves proud’ but there was a massive opportunity for us to push on in that competition. But there is a new competition, a new challenge and we’ll be looking to put things right in a couple of weeks.”
They’re without Brian O’Driscoll, captain and talisman, for the tournament. His replacement as skipper isn’t bad.
“Paul (O’Connell) has pretty much been my captain for the last couple of years, he is pack leader, it seems to be him who talks to the referee most of the time during the match, anyway. Brian is going to be a massive loss for us, he has so much respect from all the lads and so much experience but we’re going to have a young guy or two coming in there to fill his shoes and hopefully they’ll do a great job. But Paul has so much experience captaining the Lions tour in 2009 that I was a part of — it will be great for him.”
He’s not too intense?
“No. He’s, eh...” Ferris pauses, “don’t get me wrong, don’t get a lineout call wrong or you’ll hear about that! He is intense on the pitch but once training is over or the match is over he is back to his normal self. He is a good guy and I get on well with him but, don’t get the lineout calls wrong or you’ll have him and Gert Smal on your back.”
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