THE MAKE-UP OF the Ireland squad to tour North America in June would lead many to believe that new captain Peter O’Mahony will start the Test matches against the US Eagles and Canada at No. 8.
That leaves Leinster’s obdurate Kevin McLaughlin and Ulster’s versatile Iain Henderson to battle it out for the blindside flanker role. Meanwhile, an Irish player that would have been hoping to be in Australia, with the lions, at the start of the season continues his rehab and wrestles with a career-defining decision.
Stephen Ferris has been out of action since early November and, as a consequence, is in a weakened position when it comes to renegotiating his IRFU [Ulster] contract. Word leaked, as it often does near contract-haggling time, of a lucrative move for Ferris to play rugby in Japan.
As recently as April, Ulster coach Mark Anscombe admitted he was resigned to losing the combative flanker but no word, official or unofficial, has since arrived from the Far East. Ulster and Ireland teammate Chris Henry is eager for Ferris to sign on for another couple of years and help the province go from trophy contenders to winners. Henry told TheScore.ie:
We’d love to see him stick around and I think everyone in the country would feel likewise. He has shown what he can do. He’s a real s[special talent. For a guy who is only 27 years of age, hopefully there's a lot more rugby in him.
He obviously has to look at his options and see how his body is feeling. I don't think even he knows what he is doing for definite yet. He's taking it one day at a time and seeing how his ankle progresses. As an Ulster player - and I'm sure anyone from Ireland would agree - I want him to stay, absolutely."
Henry (l) wants Ferris (r) to commit his rugby future to Ulster. (©INPHO/Presseye/Darren Kidd)
Henry, a year older than Ferris, is heading off to Houston with the Irish squad tomorrow. Despite his six Test caps, the openside has been around the senior set-up for four years and is seen as an elder statesman in a squad that currently boasts four players aged 21 and under.
“Guys are being thrown into the deep-end a lot sooner but they’re able to cope with it and that’s great to see,” said Henry. “You want guys that are young, enthusiastic and who’ll bring that bit of sharpness. They’ll keep you young, keep you fresh.”
Stuart Olding came through a full training session yesterday and looks set to accompany the squad to America this weekend. If he is fully fit, the 20-year-old will be in line for his debut at inside centre against the US Eagles.
Henry commented, “He’s the one guy for me, of all the Ulster young guns, that has excelled, for me. There’s serious depth in that position and for Stu is to get his chance it would be fantastic.”