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Page last updated at 19:54 GMT, Thursday, 17 September 2009 20:54 UK

Flanker Ferris fired up for return

By Richard Petrie
BBC Sport NI

Stephen Ferris powers away to score the Lions' first try
Flanker Ferris suffered his injury in training

Stephen Ferris looks relaxed as he inspects the new corporate stand at Ravenhill, the home of Ulster Rugby, where he will return to action in a Magners League game after three months of rehabilitation.

Dressed in t-shirt and shorts, the back-row forward has been soaking up the mid-September sunshine in Belfast and refuses to dwell on what might have been after the disappointment of being injured in the early stages of the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa.

The 24-year-old was hotly tipped to wear the number six shirt for the first Test in Durban in June - until fate delivered a cruel blow in the form of a knee ligament tear sustained in training.

The Ulster Academy graduate was unaware of the extent of his injury at first, until a scan revealed a grade two tear.

"I had never had an injury like it before but I felt something pop and wasn't 100% sure what it was - it could have been a muscle tear or anything. When I found out I was out of the tour I was gutted."

Ferris had quickly made his mark by scoring a try after coming on as a replacement against the Golden Lions and a further touchdown and man-of-the-match display against Free State Cheetahs earmarked the flanker as one of the likely stars of the touring party.

"I was frustrated after not being involved in the first few games of the tour but when I did get my chance, I was able to let off a bit of steam and show some good form," the Ireland Grand Slam winner told the BBC.

Stephen Ferris
Ferris made a big impact in the opening games of the tour

"I reckon I would have been in with a shout of a Test place but it would've been a close call.

"I'm confident that I could have made my mark if I'd been given the chance and although I hung about for the first Test, it was difficult watching from the sidelines.

"The second Test turned out to be the crucial one and I was hugely disappointed not to be involved as I thought I may have been able to make a positive difference and maybe influence the outcome.

"But that's behind me now and I'm just looking to the future.

"It was a great thrill to be training with the best players from around the British Isles and the coaches were delighted with my progress.

"They just told me to just keep on doing what I was doing and that I was young enough to get another chance to show what I could do in the future.

"The whole set-up was very professional. I learnt a lot and gained plenty of experience which will hopefully stand me in good stead for the future.

It is always special to come back to Ravenhill and it means so much to me to play for Ulster

Stephen Ferris

"I was the only Ulster player in the panel but there were plenty of Irish guys there and everyone in the squad gelled very well."

Ferris made an immediate impact when he made his Ulster debut in 2005 and his explosive style and controlled aggression made him an instant favourite with the Ravenhill regulars.

He carried that form into the Ireland set-up, making his debut against the Pacific Islanders in 2006, and fully realised his potential as part of last season's Grand-Slam winning side.

"The Six Nations slam was a huge highlight for everyone who was involved and I believe we definitely have the ability and talent to do it again.

"It would be fantastic to retain the title but with tough games away to England and France next year it will not be easy.

"I'm confident we can have a good autumn series and that will put us in a good position going into the Six Nations."

Ferris has been one of the major success stories of the Ulster system in recent years and he is determined that a bright new era off the pitch, in terms of a new stand and corporate boxes, will be matched by some good form on it.

Stephen Ferris
Ferris touches down in the colours of Ulster

"Despite having a big year with Ireland and the Lions, it is always special to come back to Ravenhill and it means so much to me to play for Ulster.

"Things are taking shape off the pitch with the new stand and hopefully we can build on our win at the Ospreys in the Magners League and make some strides on the pitch too.

"Our new coach Brian McLaughlin is doing a great job and I knew him a wee bit from his time as Ireland skills coach when he worked with Eddie O'Sullivan.

"We have a good bunch of young lads coming through so things are looking good for the next few years after a bit of a disappointing run.

"We are capable of making the top-four play-offs in the league and if we can get off to a good start in our first European game against Bath, then we have a chance of doing well in the Heineken Cup too.

"We are in a tough group again but while everyone still fondly remembers the European Cup winning team of 1999, we want to make some fresh headlines of our own."

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see also
Ferris 'gutted' after Lions exit
12 Jun 09 |  Rugby Union
Lion 'hopes he did Ulster proud'
12 Jun 09 |  Northern Ireland
Injured Ferris out of Lions tour
10 Jun 09 |  Rugby Union
Cheetahs 24-26 Lions
06 Jun 09 |  Rugby Union
Golden Lions 10-74 Lions
03 Jun 09 |  Rugby Union

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