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Ricky Lutton is adamant that best is yet to come

By Michael Sadlier

Published 26/02/2016

For most players, hitting 30 is normally a stark reminder that their career is edging that bit closer towards full-time while, for members of the backline, reaching the milestone is definitely a moment when anxiety levels tend to begin an irreversible rise.

However, it's not quite the same for front five players and, in particular, those who earn their keep playing prop. Which essentially means that Ricky Lutton is fairly relaxed about his own 30th birthday, which just happens to be today.

"Yeah, the big Three-O," said Lutton with a smile with an early gift having come his way thanks to his Ulster contract extension, though only for one year.

But the former Oxford Blue is not alone in leaving his 20s behind as, over on the other side of the Ulster front row, a certain Callum Black turned 30 yesterday.

There might just be a special convening of the front row union to mark these significant dates but with just a five-day turnaround between Sunday's must-win game at Cardiff Blues and their home outing against Zebre, any celebrating looks likely to be rather low key.

"I'm getting there or thereabouts," said Lutton as he accepted that, as a prop, he is now just about hitting his peak years as a player.

"You look at Nathan White and he's still doing it at 34. Regardless of that, there's still so much improvement to be made. There are always things to work on and you see the likes of Roger Wilson, he won't like me saying this but one of the old-timers (at 34), still going out to work and improve."

Though Lutton's durability isn't quite in the same league as Wilson's, the former Ballyclare High School pupil has pretty much been an ever-present in the match-day squad this season.

"I missed just two games at the start, against Edinburgh and Treviso, and it's been brilliant to get the game-time compared to last year when, due to injury and then being out of favour, I only had three games the whole season," said Lutton, who, with Wiehahn Herbst out injured, is now Ulster's frontline tight-head.

So, 19 of his 44 Ulster appearances to date have come in this campaign - his debut was back in November 2012 against Edinburgh - and the pressure is now on to get that first try, particularly so after yesterday's birthday boy Black crossed the line for the first time earlier this month against Glasgow in his 100th game.

"I've another 50 odd to go before I reach where Callum is so maybe I'll wait to get that try until I get to 100 too," Lutton laughed.

Things get rather more serious when Sunday's game comes back up for discussion with mention made of Cardiff's artificial surface and the video session that followed the damaging 21-20 defeat to the Scarlets.

"I think the one in Cardiff is very similar to the one we have here at Aquinas school and we do everything on it so it's not going to be anything new to us. It's a non-issue," he said while mentioning that, this season, they have already played on artificial surfaces at Saracens and Oyonnax.

"It was an honest review. But we just didn't look at the problems, we looked for solutions as well. That was a very disappointing result for us on Sunday (against the Scarlets) but we're going to Cardiff intent on getting things back on track."

And for Lutton, the time is very much now to continue impressing ahead of Rodney Ah You's arrival which, with a fit Herbst, could shunt him down the pecking order again.

"If I prove myself going forward I can hopefully earn a longer contract as there is no substitute for being on the pitch," he added. For this now 30-year-old, the hope is that the best is yet to come.

Pro12 League: Cardiff Arms Park, Sunday 2.30 pm

Cardiff Blues

Ulster

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