Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 26 July 2014

Impressive Lutton happy to keep on propping up his comrades

Ricky Lutton impressed everyone with his tighthead performance for Ulster at the RDS last weekend

When the Leinster and Ulster teams for Saturday's RaboDirect PRO12 clash at the RDS were named, the inclusion of Ricky Lutton as the guests' tight-head and Kyle McCall as his understudy had Dubliners reverting to Google.

They may not be household names but, in what was Lutton's first-ever start and McCall's first-ever cap – he was on for those dramatic final 10 minutes – both did enough to suggest that Ulster have two more good props in the pipeline.

World Cup winning All Black John Afoa's contract is up in June 2014.

Ireland's Declan Fitzpatrick has had numerous injury problems.

The number three jersey is one to target.

Against Leinster's all-international front row of Cian Healy, Richardt Strauss and Mike Ross, Lutton more than held his own in front of the partisan 18,000 capacity crowd.

With Afoa – whose pregnant wife Theresa was induced yesterday – due to rejoin the Ulster squad in readiness for Saturday's Heineken Cup clash with Saracens at Twickenham, Lutton looks like being handed the number 18 jersey and a place on the bench, as Fitzpatrick has not played since the start of March.

If Ulster come through that, incidentally, they will face the winners of the Toulon v Leicester Tigers tie in the April 27 (3pm) semi-final at the Aviva Stadium, the venue for the May 18 final, too.

For a man accustomed to playing for Belfast Harlequins in Ulster Bank All-Ireland League 1B, things have begun to happen very quickly for Lutton. To his credit, he did not look out of place against Leinster.

"The first scrum was going to be important for him and he acquitted himself superbly there. I think his game just grew from that," Ulster coach Mark Anscombe enthused.

"It's not easy unearthing tight-heads in this country, but we've got another young man here. He's still got a long way to go, but great start.

"He deserves it and I couldn't be happier for him."

Lutton said: "It was brilliant to get out there and to be surrounded by that experience around me. That really helped.

"They're all internationals and the weight coming through from our back five was absolutely unbelievable.

"That made my job a lot easier; I just had to keep square and try to get through.

"The boys behind me just did the rest," was his modest assessment of his role.

Having come through via the club rugby route, Lutton has given other non-Academy graduates the perfect example to follow in order to pursue their own Ulster ambtions.

"I think game-time is really important, especially as a prop. Every experience is a new one, every prop you come up against is different," he said.

"Sometimes you need to get battered a few times to come out of it the other side a better player.

"I really enjoyed going that route into it and I'd definitely recommend it to young guys to have a crack round the world to get new experiences," he said.

"I had a year in Australia (Perth) and a year in New Zealand (Christchurch) which really refreshed my outlook of rugby.

"Then I came back and, luckily, Ulster gave me a chance this year."

Admitting that his rapid progress has exceeded his own expectations he added: "I'm just going to keep plugging away and training hard. I've got a great team around me – Clarkey (Allen Clarke), John Afoa and Tom Court – so I'll keep sponging off them.

"These guys are internationals so I just learn off them," Lutton said.

Anscombe pointed out: "Ricky is a converted loose-head prop. We had tight-head issues and when we approached him about it he didn't hesitate."

Asked when he had switched from one to three, Lutton stunned the Dublin press corps by revealing: "About November."

Given what they had just seen him do to Healy, their faces were worth a photograph.

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