Faith and fitness the key to Ludik's flying Ulster form
As one of the key performers in Ulster's table-topping start to the Guinness PRO12 season, Louis Ludik says he feels "blessed" to be in Belfast.
The South African, now in his third year at Kingspan Stadium, has sparkled, despite being surrounded by a host of Irish internationals, as well as big-name addition Charles Piutau, and has arguably been man-of-the-match in each of his side's last three games despite playing in a trio of different positions this year.
"I believe God is blessing me," said the former Agen man. "I am working really hard off the pitch too. I always have been but I am lucky to be blessed and I am fortunate that the way we are playing is helping me."
Ludik added that playing alongside Piutau has granted him additional freedom to play his best rugby.
"Someone like Charles coming, it helps having guys like him around. He is under so much pressure, guys are talking about him because he is so good, and it helps the rest of us and gives us a bit more space as well."
Top of the championship after five rounds of action, Ludik admitted that the team are hugely motivated this season by the impending departure of his compatriot Ruan Pienaar.
The scrum-half will depart in the summer, with Montpellier his likely destination, after the IRFU blocked Ulster's attempts to extend his stay.
Ludik believes the team are determined to send their star man off with a first trophy of his tenure.
"We have been talking about silverware because we really want to do it this year, especially with Pienaar going. We want to send him away with silverware."
With only one game to go before Europe, Ulster will be looking to carry a perfect record into the Champions Cup with victory in the first interpro of the season against Connacht in Galway on Friday night.
Ludik feels that the win over Ospreys last week, something of a smash and grab raid, has the province ready for the step up in intensity in the weeks ahead.
"Ospreys made it very tough for us. They slowed the ball down immensely and it felt like we were running against a wall. Their defence was really good. We made a lot of mistakes, a few handling errors and they ripped the ball out at ruck time. We did make it difficult for ourselves, but their defence was really good.
"Sometimes you have to grind it out and it's good that we did."
Connacht yesterday confirmed that they will be without three key men for the weekend's game.
During their tussle with Edinburgh last week, a game that brought the first win of the champions' title defence, back-three player Matt Healy broke his hand. Front-rowers Denis Buckley and Tom McCartney will also be absent with knee and hamstring complaints respectively.
Irish international scrum-half Kieran Marmion also had to be withdrawn last week but looks set to be fit to take on Kiss's men.