Ulster have the quality to keep Euro dream alive, says Ludik
Ulster full-back Louis Ludik has admitted that, with both sides desperate for a win, Friday's Champions Cup meeting with French giants Toulouse will likely define the remainder of the province's European season.
With Saracens boasting a perfect two wins from two games ahead of their double header with minnows Oyonnax, the winner of this weekend's Kingspan clash can maintain a push for the last-eight with the loser surely left to focus on domestic matters.
Having already suffered a reverse to Saracens on their own patch in the pool opener last month, Ludik says losing a second European home game of the season for a first time since 2007 would be catastrophic for Ulster.
"We can't afford to lose two home games," stressed the South African. "It was disappointing after Saracens, they played very well and beat us quite comfortably. This weekend is very important for us, especially with us having hopes to reach the play-offs."
While Ulster can take heart from their PRO12 victory over Edinburgh last week which lifted them to fifth in the league, Toulouse are in the loftier position of third in the Top 14 with the travel sickness so often ascribed to French clubs in this competition hardly applying to the four-time champions.
"The guys are really positive after Edinburgh," enthused Ludik despite the side losing four key men to injury over the course of the game. "Toulouse are a massive team, they're doing well in the Top 14. It's really tough.
"We have to bring it on the day but with the crowd behind us we think we can do it.
"We know Top 14 teams generally don't really travel, and they don't care almost, but in the Champions Cup every game matters.
"They're going to bring everything, especially because they lost at Saracens. It's a must-win for them too."
Ulster, already without Ireland internationals Tommy Bowe, Stuart Olding and Jared Payne, have had their challenge heightened further by losing Iain Henderson, Darren Cave, Dan Tuohy and Peter Nelson all to injury last weekend.
With Nelson and Henderson out for the season and Tuohy missing for two months, this is a second consecutive European campaign under threat from untimely injuries to key men but Ludik - forced into the centre against Edinburgh thanks to the required back-line rejig - has called on their replacements to build on their encouraging cameos a week ago.
"They are very important boys for us," he said of the now absent quartet. "It's going to be very tough but it's great to have younger guys coming through.
"The guys that came off the bench last week played really well.
"You want your best guys to be fit because it's such an important tournament, but it's nice to see younger guys getting a chance and putting their hands up too."
Meanwhile, flanker James Davies has signed a new regional contract with the Scarlets.
The 25-year-old will link up with brother Jonathan when the Wales and Lions centre returns to Llanelli next season.