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Dublin: 11°C Saturday 31 October 2020
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Ferris fears for Ulster pack with only one big obvious ball-carrier

‘You’ve got Iain Henderson and that’s really it.’

PERHAPS THE MOST formidable ball-carrier in Ulster history, Stephen Ferris feels the current side is sorely lacking go-forward power as they approach the make-or-break home meeting against Leinster.

With two games to go, Les Kiss’ men are clinging on to fourth place in the Pro12 with a two-point cushion separating them from fifth-placed Scarlets. And everybody in the northern province knows they must take victory in their last home game of the season to keep hope of reaching the semi-finals alive.

Stephen Ferris hands off Roddy Grant Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

However, while Leinster are forewarning of the ‘fortress’ Ulster make Kingspan Stadium on big matchdays and the threat they pose behind the scrum, Ferris is deeply worried about the lack of dynamic game-breakers in shirts one to eight.

“Roger Wilson had his best years at Northampton and Chris Henry isn’t really a ball-carrier. You’ve got Iain Henderson and that’s really it,” Ferris said at a launch for Heineken’s Rugby Club yesterday.

“Peter Brown, Franco van der Merwe, Callum Black, Rory Best, Ricky Lutton,” the ex-Ireland, Ulster and Lion lists off the tight five, “there’s no ball-carriers there. Nick Williams is out for the season too, if I was a Leinster player I would think: ‘we can take them up front’.

There’s so much pressure on Iain Henderson to go out and run through people and get offloads away. When you get offloads, you get line-breaks, when you get line-breaks you get points. It’s as simple as that.

“That’s exactly what Nick Williams brought to the table. he might have made a few mistakes, but nobody ever wanted to tackle him and get in his way.”

Dave Heffernan and Nick Williams Big Nick Williams hands off Dave Heffernan against Connacht in December. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Ferris, retired two years but still only 30, reins his argument in slightly to nod at the immense power Stuart McCloskey brings in the centre. However, Leinster will bring a handy counterweight in the form of Ben Te’o and the blue pack can call upon Cian Healy, Josh van der Flier, Sean Cronin and possibly even Sean O’Brien.

“Leinster have better carriers than us and if one of the two boys in midfield got injured we’d be in trouble,” says Ferris with a passionate honesty about his team that hasn’t dimmed since he left the dressing room.

Watch Ulster. Who’s carrying the ball? At first receiver it’s Callum Black, you don’t want your loosehead prop carrying the ball. Then it’s Franco van der Merwe… you need your big men getting you over the gain-line, getting quick ball.”

A devastating knee injury sustained by this year’s marquee signing Marcel Coetzee means the situation isn’t going to dramatically improve next season. The big ‘Bok back row was stretchered off during the Sharks’ Super Rugby loss to the Lions earlier this month and must wait until 2017 before pulling a red-handed jersey on.

“You have to get your chequebook out,” Ferris says definitively.

“Marcel Coetzee is going to miss the group stages of the Champions Cup.

“Would I be happy with Robbie Diack, Chris Henry and Roger Wilson in the back row for Ulster going into the first European Cup game next season? Probably not… hopefully the IRFU can sort something out with Ulster and we can sign somebody for six months or a year.”

IMG_8299 Rugby fans are encouraged to join a unique club at HeinekenRugbyClub.com; where they will receive member-only benefits such as invitations to exclusive events, match tickets, and the chance to toss the coin at a big European rugby game. Source: Heineken

In saying that, Ferris does still believe that his former club have what it takes to make home advantage count this Saturday. Victory over Leinster will be more than half the battle towards claiming a semi-final spot. But once in the knock-out stage, Ferris finds it difficult to see the northern province getting the two wins that would then separate them from a trophy.

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“If we can sneak in the back door, get third or fourth, I would really fancy our chances to get to another final. But Ulster have been the biggest under-achievers since we last won the Celtic League (in 2006).

“Let’s be honest about it: we’ve got to finals, got a hiding in 2012 (Heineken Cup final), close in the RDS (Pro12 final) when Robbie Diack knocked it over the line — such small margins in the professional game.

Do I think we have it this year? I don’t think we do. If we have our best side out on the pitch we’ll be there or thereabouts, but I don’t think we have the ball-carriers in the pack to give us that front-foot ball.

“We need big guys to break the gainline and, at the minute, we just don’t have that.

“I said a few weeks ago we have three or four cup finals. We’ve got past a couple, but if we lose on Saturday, then the writing’s on the wall.”

If only they had a few men who could ram their way through that wall.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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