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South African Louis Ludik extends stay in Belfast and closes in on return to action with Ulster Rugby

By Jonathan Bradley

Published 01/11/2016

Delighted to sign: Louis Ludik will remain with Ulster until 2020
Delighted to sign: Louis Ludik will remain with Ulster until 2020

With the next three years of his professional life mapped out for the first time, Louis Ludik is relishing the chance to call Belfast home.

The South African arrived at Kingspan Stadium in the summer of 2014 and two weeks ago inked his name on a pact to extend his stay at the province until 2020.

Such a deal would ordinarily not be sanctioned for an import - see the case surrounding the departing Ruan Pienaar - but Ludik will qualify for Ireland on residency next summer.

While talk of an international future in a different shade of green than he once dreamed of is diplomatically batted to one side with the usual platitudes lauding the current backline talent of both Ireland and Ulster, the versatile former Shark says it was a simple decision to continue his stay in the northern hemisphere.

"There was no doubt at all," said Ludik. "It's obviously a yes.

"Throughout my career it's been very up and down. There were always short-term contracts like the last one.

"Sometimes, because it's a contact sport, there's a lot of risk and to sign for three years takes away that thing at the back of your mind the whole time."

Ludik (30) arrived in Belfast with wife Chame - the pair have been together since meeting as 15-year-olds in South Africa - and have since become parents to baby Leo. Ludik says the whole family was thrilled to remain in Northern Ireland.

"As a family we love Belfast," he added. "It really makes everything easier when your family is happy. There was no decision to make really.

"The friendliness of people here is still unbelievable. I always think how you act when you drive says a lot.

"I'm used to France and South Africa where people are extremely impatient but my first time driving here people were waving me out all over and giving space."

Despite having heard about the province through his good friend and fellow former Shark Pienaar, his own move to Ulster almost never happened.

Having come to Europe a year earlier with Agen, he thought he had been leaving the Sharks for a side in the Top14 only for his suitors to fall into France's second tier between the contract being signed and his arrival.

With a clause negotiated that he could depart after a season if they didn't bounce straight back to the top flight, they would reach a promotion play-off. Win and he would stay in the south of France, lose and he would have only days to pursue the mutual interest with Ulster.

"We're very good friends with Ruan and he'd come over to visit when I was still with the Sharks," he said. "He'd always have awesome things to say and talked about the fans.

"He always said it doesn't matter how you play, the fans will always encourage you and tell you that it'll be better next week.

"He always had positive things to say about everything. I went to France and we had that clause.

"We played the final and if we won that then I'd have stayed but in the end we lost.

"It wasn't that the contract from Ulster was there waiting on paper, it was just stating interest.

"It was only after that final that the offer came through and, because of the dates, I had a day or two to make the decision. The rest is history I suppose."

If his signing was far from straightforward, his arrival followed suit after he was recruited by David Humphreys to play under Mark Anscombe and landed in Belfast to find both gone.

"It was a bit strange," he admitted. "I didn't know exactly how things worked, who makes the calls and stuff.

"It was only when I got here that I realised the coach was gone too. That's rugby.

"It makes it difficult because sometimes one coach will like the way you play and then the next guy won't. It's stressful but you just have to prove yourself.

"I think it's all worked out in the end."

Ludik's immediate future remains in the Kingspan treatment room, the result of a cheekbone broken in a shuddering collision with Bundee Aki when Ulster were beaten by Connacht in Galway at the beginning of last month.

He is, however, optimistic that with a two-week break looming after Friday's trip to Edinburgh he will be back in PRO12 action sooner rather than later.

"It's recovering," said the man who missed large chunks of last season with a groin issue.

"It was extremely painful but I didn't know exactly what was wrong.

"The doc immediately thought the cheekbone was broken.

"I didn't know exactly how long that meant I would be out but, four to six weeks, it's not too bad and I should be back after that break.

"There's a long season ahead and I'll just have to work harder to maintain that form and get back into the squad.

"It hasn't been great the last couple of weeks but hopefully we can pick it up again."

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