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Countdown To Croker: Five Days To Go

Countdown To Croker: Five Days To Go

…Ferris Gets Backing For Lions Place…Rome Tries Leave Fitzgerald Wanting More…Munster Academy Talents Train With Ireland…Say What?…Numbers Game…

FERRIS GETS BACKING FOR LIONS PLACE: Ulster and Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris is in line for a seat on the British & Irish Lions tour plane to South Africa this summer – so says Newport Gwent Dragons coach Paul Turner.

Turner rates the Maghaberry man very highly and has been a long-time admirer of Ferris’ play, even before he has made the Ireland number 6 jersey his own this season.

“Stephen is playing well but he was probably playing even better a year ago when he wasn’t in the Ireland team,” said Turner, whose Dragons side edged out Ulster at Rodney Parade on Sunday. 

“Most of the coaches in the Magners League have recognised that Stephen is a real talent but he’s been unfortunate with injuries.

“They have really curtailed his progress over the last four years but thankfully he’s clear of all that now and looks odds on for the Lions.

“All he needs to do is to keep up his form to be on the plane.”

Ferris has so far wisely sidestepped all questions about gaining a Lions squad place, preferring to concentrate on building on his already excellent international back row partnership with openside David Wallace and number 8 Jamie Heaslip.

After making an impressive RBS 6 Nations bow against France, the 23-year-old blindside maintained those high standards last week against Italy when he helped set up a try for Luke Fitzgerald.

Turner added: “Ferris has got everything in his game. He is a big man with great tonnage and a good defender. He’s a great ball carrier and gets over the gain-line with ease.

“There’s huge competition for places. Ryan Jones, the Welsh captain, was outstanding against England last week and must maintain his form but is better at number 8.

“Joe Worsley is a natural 6 while Scottish pair Jason White and Alasdair Strokosch will also have a say.”

ROME TRIES LEAVE FITZGERALD WANTING MORE: After opening his international try-scoring account with a brace against Italy, Ireland winger Luke Fitzgerald is itching to test the England defence at Croke Park this weekend.

The 21-year-old Dubliner was used as a replacement in last year’s 33-10 defeat to England at Twickenham and although noting that further Test match experience since then has improved him as a player, he feels he still has some way to go.

“To be honest, I still feel I’ve a long way to go in terms of being the finished article,” he said, taking time out from Ireland’s busy training schedule.

“I still feel I have an awful lot of improving to do and an awful lot of developing as a player. I think that it’s going well enough this season but there is room for improvement.”

Given Ireland’s recent successes against England, particularly the 2004 and 2007 wins, Fitzgerald has watched on enviously at just what it means to the players to beat the ‘old enemy’.

Recalling his own memories of past Ireland-England clashes, he admitted: “Moments like Simon Geoghegan’s try (at Twickenham in 1994) stick out. I’d absolutely love to get a chance like that.

“I got a taste for it last year. I think I got about 40 minutes against them and absolutely loved it over there.

“But to play them at Croke Park would just be phenomenal and one of those experiences that you never forget for the rest of your life.”

Fitzgerald broke through for two tries in a man-of-the-match display against Italy and is set to face a familiar foe in Wasps star Paul Sackey next weekend.

“Sackey is a really tough opponent to play against. I’ve played against him twice for Leinster (in the Heineken Cup) this year and he’s a tricky customer.

“He’s a really tough guy to mark but, if I get picked to play against him, it’s a challenge I’ll be really looking forward to.”

MUNSTER ACADEMY TALENTS TRAIN WITH IRELAND: The Munster Rugby Academy players were afforded a rare opportunity late last week when they got to train with Ireland RBS 6 Nations Squad at the Presentation College grounds in Cork. 

Declan Kidney had his players down in the Rebel county for a short training camp and the Munster Academy players were on hand to assist at training, acting as opposition during the different drills and defensive work.

For all the Academy members, it was an enjoyable session as they got to run out against the in-form Irish side.

The experience was of great benefit to the up-and-coming players and a very worthwhile exercise as they got to see first hand the training and commitment that is required at senior representative level.

Running out against Brian O’Driscoll, Ronan O’Gara, Luke Fitzgerald and Tommy Bowe, the young Munster backs enjoyed a high-paced intensive session led by Irish backs coach Alan Gaffney and defence coach Les Kiss.

Munster Rugby Academy Manager Ian Sherwin was extremely thankful to the Irish management and squad for affording the players such an opportunity.

“We’re very pleased with the way the Academy players performed. More so with the fact that they recognised the necessity to replicate such intensity and pace in their own training sessions in order to progress to a higher level,” he said.

“I hope to see it come into fruition now.”


“With regards to rugby, he’s intense. He’s very detailed. With regards to lineouts, he does an unbelievable amount of work on that. You’ve seen that the way we’re defending lineouts.

“With open play he does a lot of continuity drills and rucking drills. They’re paying off as well.

“You’re seeing offloading going on. Most of the time you’re seeing reasonably quick, clean ball at rucks when we can. He’s good. He loves his scrums. He loves his front five.

“Off the pitch he gets a good bit of banter, trying to slag him about that punch he knocked out a Kiwi with. He’s not taking to that too much though!”

– Ireland number 8 Jamie Heaslip gives his opinion on forwards coach Gert Smal and what sort of work the South African thrives on

“The players probably have to take a certain amount of criticism for not playing what we saw a bit more in earlier times. Maybe that’s why we weren’t clicking as much.

“There’s a good unity amongst the squad at the moment. There’s good fight in the squad. We’ve had two really good results (against France and Italy).

“The New Zealand game in November didn’t click for us. If we’d done a few things a bit cleverer and defended things a bit better, we might have been in that game. It might have been very tight.”

– Ireland winger Luke Fitzgerald on how things are beginning to click for the squad under Declan Kidney and the new regime

“We are mindful we have to be seen to be whiter than white.

“But we can’t just back off at the breakdown. If we don’t contest for the ball we could be blown away in the first half.

“We want the referee to make sure they keep Ireland honest in that area because we want to play rugby.

“What we are really trying to say to the refs is, ‘please judge us the same way you judge other teams and do not come into the game with a preconceived idea.’”

– England attack coach Brian Smith, the former Australia and Ireland international, discusses referee issues and his team’s recent problems in picking up yellow cards


7 – Legendary winger Rory Underwood holds the record for the most tries scored in the Ireland v England series. He scored seven tries for England between 1984 and 1996.

Six players have scored three tries each for Ireland against England, including current squad member Shane Horgan

47 – John Hayes will become the most-capped player in RBS 6 Nations history when he lines out against England. Hayes will be making a record 47th successive appearance in the Six Nations, moving him one ahead of France’s Fabien Pelous (46).

Adding to the impressive nature of this achievement, all of Hayes’ Six Nations games to date have been as starts

5 – Ireland’s highest try tally against England in a Test match fixture has been five tries, achieved in Cork in 1905 and also in Dublin in 1947 when the hosts won 22-0. Lansdowne Road was the venue when England scored a record seven tries in a 36-14 win over the Irish in 1938