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Ludik relishes the fight to prove his class at Ulster

Fit-again South African eager to keep impressing Kiss despite being surrounded by an all-international cast

By Jonathan Bradley

Published 21/09/2016

In the hotseat: Louis Ludik, who scored a try against Scarlets, is out to leave his injury woe behind
In the hotseat: Louis Ludik, who scored a try against Scarlets, is out to leave his injury woe behind

Fit and firing after a year of injury frustration, Louis Ludik is determined to hold onto his place in Ulster's crowded back-line.

As an uncapped back, the South African is something of a rarity at the Kingspan Stadium, but, even with a dozen internationals vying for jerseys nine through 15, he has proven to be a hugely useful addition since David Humphreys made him one of his final Ulster signings back in 2014.

While the returning Paddy Jackson scooped the official man of the match honours in the win over Scarlets last Friday night, Ludik cannot have been far behind after offering another industrious outing that was highlighted by his finishing of a fine counter-attacking move for Ulster's first try.

The 29-year-old knows that with the talent surrounding him, and the summer addition of Charles Piutau, it was just the kind of eye-catching display he needs to impress Les Kiss and hold onto his jersey.

"It's very tough but I'm just grateful for any opportunity I get to play around these talents," he said. "It's a privilege to play with them and I'm really enjoying it. When you get a chance, you try and get your hands on the ball as much as possible.

"Sometimes I'm so tired, but you have to keep going. I didn't see too much ball in that second half (last week) but fortunately in the first half I had a few chances."

Versatility is a huge strength for the former Shark and it may prove to be especially valuable against Glasgow come Friday night.

Despite the wealth of options available with a fully fit panel, Ulster will be without four wingers on Friday - Tommy Bowe (knee), Andrew Trimble (foot), Craig Gilroy and Jacob Stockdale (both toe) are all on the sidelines - while centre Luke Marshall is ruled out with a concussion.

On a more positive note, both Jared Payne and Rory Best will be available, although could make their first appearances of the season from the bench after sitting out the first three weeks thanks to the IRFU's Player Welfare Programme.

After a tortuous seven months, Ludik is just relieved that his own injury struggles are behind him. A troublesome groin meant he did not feature for Ulster beyond February last season.

Indeed, after a potential comeback against Friday's opponents was thwarted in March, he did not take the field again until August. It was during his third game back, against Northampton Saints in a friendly, that he thought another spell on the sidelines beckoned thanks to an injured hand.

Although still in a splint, he was missing for just one game, and admits to feeling relieved that he is already back.

"I was very negative after Northampton because I thought it was going to be a couple of weeks," he said.

"Especially with the competition, you want to play as much as you can. Last year was so frustrating for me. I'm very happy to be injury-free and to be playing 80 minutes again. It's nice when you play well but it's almost better coming off the field injury-free."

Ulster have never won a PRO12 game at Scotstoun and Ludik, who is assisting Queen's with their strength and conditioning this season, knows that he will have to be particularly aware of the threat posed by the opposing back three.

Former Ulster ace Tommy Seymour is scoring at will and Stuart Hogg, who Ulster made overtures towards before signing Ludik, is very dangerous.

"They're in good form and they're always difficult to play against," said the man who intimated he is targeting a new deal with his contract expiring this summer.

"We have to watch for aimless kicks, it's those basics we need to do well. They're outstanding and they'll be hurting from losing to Cardiff."

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