South Africa may arrive at the Aviva Stadium a week on Saturday having endured a torrid Tri-Nations series at the hands of Australia and New Zealand. Head coach Peter de Villiers is also reportedly at loggerheads with his own assistants and the Boks may not have won in Dublin in their last three visits.
Yet, Ulster and Ireland back-row Ferris believes the world champions will be as fired up as ever to get their Grand Slam tour of the home unions off to a winning start.
“I think they are lacking a bit of confidence, but they are coming over here on a Grand Slam tour to win every game,” Ferris said in Limerick this week as the Ireland training squad convened for the autumn internationals. “Matfield has taken over the captaincy and I don’t think Victor would have taken it on if he didn’t think his team was up to scratch. We expect a big team coming over and they are always a tough team to beat.”
That toughness is founded on an immense physicality that will ensure a confrontational game to start the Aviva Stadium’s international rugby resumé. But Ferris is confident Ireland can more than cope with the challenge set by the tourists.
“International rugby is very tough and every game is challenging. With South Africa, the pack is usually very, very big, they usually have a couple of massive centres in there who can make life difficult. But, if you can match it and get on top of them, it makes life that much easier throughout the match. They are a very aggressive powerful side and hopefully we can match that and beat it.
“They put a lot of emphasis on their scrum and lineout. Matfield runs the lineout and they have got a couple of really good props in there so if we can get our set-piece ticking along it will be a really good day for us.”
Ferris is being given an insight into the South African mindset on an almost daily basis by the growing Springbok contingent at Ulster and joked: “I’m learning Afrikaans at the minute so hopefully I’ll know their line-outs.
“Pedrie Wannenburg’s first language is Afrikaans and him and Johann (Muller) and BJ Botha speak it a bit in the gym and you pick up a bit here and there. I’m not sure if the South African boys are being released for this match, but the South Africans are really good guys and have brought a lot to Ulster and it shows just what kind of talent is in the South African game.”
Last year’s 15-10 victory over the world champions at Croke Park led to claims by Matfield the Irish forwards had picked up a bit of Afrikaans to decode the Springboks’ lineout calls. But Ferris disputed that.
“No, we’d just done a lot of homework on them and knew where the ball was going to be thrown just from the amount of video analysis that we’d done,” he said. “I actually chatted with the South African guys after the match and they were taking the mickey out of us. But it was just the hard work that we’d done that helped us get a good bit of ball off them last year.”
Ferris added the South African threat lay in more than just set-piece rugby and the battle of the back rows was just as crucial to the outcome on November 6, said the Ireland flanker.
“Well, every back-row can have a really good day. Last year against Australia, their number seven (David Pocock) gave us a horrible day so we can’t let the players get on top of us. Schalk Burger is having a really good year and I actually thought he might have gotten a bit of a rest but he’s coming over and I look forward to playing against him if I get the opportunity.”
The visit of South Africa first up is naturally focusing Irish minds, but head coach Declan Kidney must prepare his players for subsequent visits by Samoa, New Zealand and Argentina in successive weeks, Ireland’s toughest sequence of autumn matches outside of a World Cup.
“Obviously, with South Africa up first, it means (we’ll take it) one game at a time but there are four big games and four games we want to win.
“The last few games haven’t gone so well for us and we definitely want to get back on the winning track. If we string a few wins together, winning becomes a habit. Hopefully, we can start that next week.
“It’s going to be very, very tough, on the body and mentally, but if we get off to a good start it will make the following three weeks that bit easier.”