Grand Slam-winning flanker Stephen Ferris was still coming to terms with the enormity of being selected as one of the best players in Britain and Ireland after his call-up to Ian McGeechan’s 37-man Lions squad for this summer’s tour to South Africa.
Stephen Ferris was busily preparing for Ulster’s Magners League clash against the Cardiff Blues on Friday when he was informed of his selection for the Lions.
Interviewed by BBC Northern Ireland just a while later, the powerfully-built flanker was still on a high.
“It hasn’t really sunk in. I don’t think it will for a few weeks,” he enthused.
“Everybody will be really proud of me back home, all the Ulster fans will be cheering hard for me.
“It’s great that I’m there. It’s pretty hard to believe but I’ll go out to South Africa and enjoy every minute of it. It’s going to be a great experience.”
It has been a whirlwind season for the Maghaberry man. A Grand Slam in his first RBS 6 Nations campaign, some barmstorming displays in the Magners League and Heineken Cup and now Lions recognition.
Of course, he gleefully peppered those outings for Ulster and Ireland with some of his trademark thumping tackles, one facet of his impressive all-round game.
Ireland defence coach Les Kiss rates him as one of the hardest hitters he has ever seen, while provincial boss Matt Williams has dubbed him ‘the Ulster Samoan.’
The honours keep coming for the affable Ferris and it is no surprise that he was out on the training pitch when the Lions squad announcement was being made.
“I was out here training my guts out for a couple of hours, for the game against Cardiff on Friday,” he explained, when asked about how he found out his Lions call-up.
“I just dandered in, got a shower and came back out. I was just kicking a ball about the pitch and then JD (Jonny Davis), our fitness coach, came out and gave me the old thumbs.
“It was fantastic, he just came over and shook my hand and said ‘well done.’
“It was just like, ‘wow, I’m in the British & Irish Lions.’ It’s the pinnacle of rugby, it’s the highest level you can go.
“To get the opportunity to get into a Test side is massive and I’ll be doing everything I can to do that. It’s just awesome to be at the top level…I’m only 23.
“I’ll try to enjoy it and hopefully I’ll give the Ulster and Ireland fans something to cheer about when I’m over there.”
In his 13-Test career, Ferris has yet to play South Africa and he is already licking his lips at the prospect of taking on the World Cup holders in their own backyard.
“It’ll be a big physical challenge. They’re the World champions, supposedly the best pack in the world.
“I’m going to relish the opportunity to get stuck into them and just give it 100% like I always do.
“If I’m in there (in the Test line-up, I’ll try and cause a bit of havoc.
“It’s going to be a massive test for the Lions and just to be a part of that, to make a bit more history over there in South Africa, would be great.”
And Ferris is backing Paul O’Connell to make a success of his Lions captaincy, especially after his experiences of playing alongside the Munster giant in Ireland’s Grand Slam-winning side.
“Paul is a great leader. He’s done a fantastic job with Munster and he’s captained Ireland on a few occasions.” he told Setanta Sports News.
“I”ve a lot of respect for Paul and I wish him all the best with the captaincy. I’m sure he’ll not let the British & Irish Lions down at all.
“He’s a massive player and playing alongside him for Ireland I’ve learnt so much off him over the last few months and hopefully that will stand me well when I put on a Lions shirt.
“He’s definitely the man for the job and if I am there beside him I’ll be supporting him all the way.”