Hutch spoke to Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris this week ahead of their clash with the Springboks this weekend, and he admitted that the build up to the Rugby World Cup has begun.
The interview was teed up by those fine folks at ASICS, Ferris’ sponsors, and he called me to discuss Ulster, Ireland and the rather large tournament looming next year.
“Hello? Is that James? It’s Stephen Ferris here…from Irish Rugby?” I was amused at his slightly tentative introduction as if I wouldn’t know who he was, and as if he had been calling out of the blue. “Who?” I was tempted to respond, but thought better of it and just admired his mild-mannered approach.
After reassuring me that he is indeed fully fit after recent injury troubles, we spoke about Ulster’s form so far this season.
“We got off to a great start with six from six, but then lost to Munster at the weekend. We have more belief in ourselves this year. Bryan McLaughlin has instilled that belief, and the mental side is really important. We’ve also brought in a few new signings which have been great for us.”
“We’re fourth in the table, Munster are top and Leinster 5th, so the provinces are doing pretty well. If everyone keeps doing what they are doing for their province at the weekend, we should go well against South Africa.”
I asked about the context of this first fixture against the Boks in light of their ill-fated summer tour and the Rugby World Cup next year, and was half-expecting the standard professional, media-trained response of ‘we just focus on the next game’, but Ferris was refreshingly honest.
“The summer tour came at the end of a long season and we had a few injuries. The boys still went down there thinking we could win, but we didn’t get the results and it was a tough tour. But now it’s a new season, the provinces are doing well and now there’s a massive build up for the World Cup.”
“Everybody knows deep down that we’re all thinking about the World Cup. If we can get a run of games it’s obviously going to have an impact.”
“All the guys in the squad have the belief that we can win all four games. We’ve beaten South Africa for the last couple of years. We’ve had trouble against New Zealand, but hopefully we’ll beat them this time.”
Unusually, it was actually me that wanted to focus on the next game, so I asked about their preparations for taking on the Boks at the new Lansdowne Road.
“South Africa don’t have too many weaknesses. They are a very physical team based around their front five and a strong back row. We have to be on our game in the pack. We competed on their lineout last year and that worked well, and they thought we had learned Afrikaans to understand their calls. We hadn’t actually, but a bit of counting seemed to wind them up pretty well!”
“I won my first cap at the old Lansdowne Road and I’m really looking forward to playing at the new one. It’s very different, the facilities are amazing, but hopefully the atmosphere will be the same.”
Even if it’s half-empty after the over-priced ticket saga?
“I don’t know too much about that. I understand some people have put their hands up and admitted the mistake. Every player wants to play in front of a full house, and hopefully they’ll be able to sell those extra tickets. We can’t really worry about that though, we’ve got enough to think about.”
“It’s going to be a difficult Autumn with four hard games. It’s going to be tough on the body, but we’ve had a good week training in Limerick and we’ve got a good feel factor around the squad, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Indeed, we all are. And as Ferris says, the build up to the Rugby World Cup begins here for all the home nations, and we can’t wait to see how they fare.
Stephen Ferris works with ASICS Smarter Rugby, for expert coaching videos online visit www.asics.co.uk/rugby