Stephen Ferris highlights frustration over Ulster recruitment

Stephen Ferris believes Ulster’s recruitment in recent seasons has been a mitigating factor in the province coming up short during big games.

By Ciaran Donaghy
Tuesday, 31st May 2022, 7:00 am

The backrow, who made over a century of appearances for Ulster before being forced to retire early due to injury and is now working as a pundit on Premier Sports, was part of the last team to bring silverware back to Kingspan Stadium in 2006 when David Humphreys’ drop goal beat the Ospreys to clinch the league title.

“I think Ulster have improved a lot of recent seasons - but so have every other team,” said Ferris. “I don’t think Ulster’s recruitment has been of the same calibre as it was back in 2010 to 2013/14.

“Ulster reaching finals, topping the seeding in Europe and being number one seeds a couple of years in a row, there was a real buzz and energy around Ulster and with that came a lot of expectation.

Stephen Ferris during his Ulster playing career. Pic by PressEye Ltd.

“At the minute, I think Ulster are still a little bit behind, they have signed a tight head, Ross Kane has obviously left and heading to Ealing Trailfinders, they have brought in a Kiwi in Jeffery Toomaga-Allen from Wasps who has played for the Hurricanes and does have a bit of experience but when you have Tom O’Toole, (Gareth) Milasinovich and Marty Moore is this guy being brought in to be fourth-choice tighthead prop?

“And that is where I feel Ulster’s recruitment needs to be a little bit better.

“If you are going to have a foreign signing it has to be somebody that is starting week in and week out, like a Duane Vermeulen.

“There are a couple of areas in Ulster that need a World Cup winner like Johan Muller or Brad Thorne that played for Leinster and was brilliant that year in 2012 to take them on that extra five per cent that is maybe needed in a big game or a big final.”

The grand slam winner with Ireland in 2009 also thinks the inability to produce homegrown players in the pack is holding Ulster back from ending their trophy drought.

“I think it has been a struggle in recent years,” he said. “It is well documented the amount of players that Ulster have brought up the road from Dublin, lads that have played and represented Leinster and Ireland that have come up the road and are now playing for Ulster.

“Young lads have been given opportunities like David McCann who had four or five games on the bounce at the start of the season, there was so much talk.

“In fairness to Dan (McFarland) and the coaching staff, they gave him a number of games and he is now captaining Ulster A over the last couple of weeks or going forward into this tournament in August/September time.

“I think it is always a struggle, the time, effort and money that has been put into the academy...we’re just not seeing it yet, that Leinster academy is just a machine, schools’ rugby down there is nearly semi-professional, the strength and conditioning, the directors of rugby, the player pool that they have to choose from.

“So, from an Ulster point of view on homegrown players, we are always trying to play catch-up but I still think there is room for improvement there and I think younger lads need to be given more of a chance and more opportunity, unfortunately, it just seems to be outside backs that we are always producing.”

q Rob Kearney and Stephen Ferris will be part of the Premier Sports team bringing live coverage of all four URC quarter-finals this weekend.

Ferris joins Graham Little, Andrew Trimble, David Wallace, Alan Quinlan, Mark Robson and Paul Marshall for Ulster v Munster on Friday night, with full build-up on Premier Sports 2 from 6.30pm. Kearney joins Ross Harries, Stephen Ferris, John Barclay and Ryle Nugent for full build-up and live action of Leinster v Glasgow Warriors on Premier Sports 2 from 3pm.

Tune-in to every second of the drama live on Premier Sports (sign up at Friday, June 3 - Ulster v Munster, Premier Sports 2 from 6.30pm, KO 7.35pm;

Saturday, June 4 - Vodacom Bulls v Cell C Sharks, Premier Sports 2 from 12.15pm, KO 12.45; Saturday, June 4 - Leinster v Glasgow Warriors, Premier Sports 2 from 3pm, KO 3.15pm;

Saturday, June 4 - DHL Stormers v Edinburgh, Premier Sports 2 from 5.30pm, KO 6pm.