Injury forces Stephen Ferris to sign-off early on a memorable career

Stephen Ferris signs the Ulster Legends board at the new Ravenhill Stadium
Stephen Ferris signs the Ulster Legends board at the new Ravenhill Stadium

The spirit was willing but the body was not and the news Ulster and Irish fans did not want to acknowledge was confirmed on Tuesday - Stephen Ferris was forced to call time on his rugby career.

Ferris looked to have won a long battle with an ankle injury towards the end of the season just finished when he returned to the pitch with Ulster in the RaboDirect PRO12 and Heineken Cup.

But he suffered another setback and the bullish backrow forward was forced to call time early in his career.

It is the first time in his eight seasons as a professional rugby player that Ferris has had to admit defeat, but still managed to put a smile on one last time for the media at Ravenhill.

As he confirmed his retirement yesterday his last act was fittingly to sign the new ‘Ulster Legends’ board at the new players entrance to the Ravenhill pitch - and rightly the first name in the right hand corner!

Ferris’s no holds barred approach to the game soon made him a huge favourite of fans across Ireland.

After almost 18 months layoff due to the ankle injury Ulster fans at Ravenhill on Friday, March 14 welcomed ‘Super Fez’ back.

“There’s only one ‘F’ in Ferris” echoed around the ground as the fans got behind the star - and when he came on, he did not let them down, coming up with a big hit on a Scarlets players seconds after having come on.

It was a fitting return, but it was sadly to be short lived. Ferris went on to play in the PRO12 games against Edinburgh and Cardiff Blues and in the Heineken Cup quarter-final against Saracens.

But he suffered a setback with the ankle in training and the painful reality began to set in for Ferris that he would not be playing rugby again.

“It has not really sunk in yet,” admitted Ferris.

He added: “Not that long ago I was told the best thing to do was to hang the boots up. It has all happened pretty quickly.”

Ferris added: “It is every young rugby player’s dream to represent their province and their country.

“I have been enormously privileged to have done both.

“I have had a great career, met many wonderful people and I hang up the boots with no regrets.”

Ulster rugby director David Humphreys said of the bullish back-rower: “We knew from the day and hour that he walked into the Academy that he was an exceptional talent.

“Through dedication and hard work he developed into one of the best forwards in the world game.”

Ferris was a graduate of the Hughes Insurance Ulster Rugby Academy and made his debut for Ulster as a substitute against Border Reivers in 2005 aged 20.

He quickly made an Ulster starting place his own and was named Ulster’s player of the year in 2006.

He went on to play 106 games for his Province and scored 60 points.

Ferris played for Ireland 35 times and he represented the national team at the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand and played in all five games of Ireland’s 2009 Grand Slam success.

That same year he was selected for the British and Irish Lions Tour of South Africa and scored two tries in the build-up games.

He had as good as cemented a place in the starting team for the first Test, but injury was to rob him of his chance and his tour finished prematurely.

He won his last cap for Ireland, against England, in the RBS 6 Nations in March 2012.