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Ulster v Zebre: My birthday was ruined by horror injury but now I am raring to go again - Louis Ludik

By Michael Sadlier

Published 24/11/2016

Return: Louis Ludik suffered a horror facial injury at the Sportsground
Return: Louis Ludik suffered a horror facial injury at the Sportsground

As injuries go, this one was truly horrible and even managed to pretty much be the ruination of Louis Ludik's 30th birthday.

He shudders when recalling the aftermath of a sickening, though accidental, clash of heads with Bundee Aki, late on in October's defeat to Connacht at the Sportsground, which resulted in Ludik fracturing his cheekbone and requiring surgery to repair the damage.

At least the returning South African can smile about it now - which is more than he could manage for a while after the incident from which Aki emerged largely unscathed - but the aftermath of the injury proved to be particularly invasive for the versatile Ludik who can play centre, wing and full-back.

"We played on the Friday night and the Saturday was my birthday," he recalls.

"And they wanted me to have the surgery on the Saturday, but I just said 'oh please, can we just have it on the Monday because I don't want to spend my birthday in a hospital'.

Even though Ludik was granted his wish, his 30th naturally, didn't quite turn out to be what the former Sharks and Agen player had envisaged.

"I wasn't in great form," he admits.

"This was one of the weirdest injuries. Because it's in your face you feel it the whole time especially when you smile and then you can't really eat.

"I had to drink soup most of the time, and through a straw too, which wasn't ideal."

Mind you, he had, at least, managed to sign a new contract the day before going to Galway which will keep the popular Ludik at the Kingspan until 2020 and enable him qualify for Ireland from next summer.

That helped ease the pain of the injury and being felled yet again after struggling with a groin problem last season. And what was even more frustrating for Ludik was having to sit things out for over a month after having been in such electric form.

Even though he had missed the season's opening clash with the Dragons, thanks to a hand issue picked up in the pre-season friendly against Northampton Saints, Ludik had then returned to be one of Ulster's stand-out players prior to that Galway game which turned out to be the province's first defeat of the season.

Including the reverse at Connacht, Les Kiss's side have stumbled on to lose four from five with only one of those defeats coming in Europe at Bordeaux.

So, heading into tomorrow night's home game with lowly Zebre - who have managed more than Ulster achieved by beating Edinburgh in Murrayfield, the 11th-placed Italians' only win in seven games - is all about Ulster putting the brakes on their poor run in the PRO12 though.

"When a team goes up and down with form you just want to be out on the field," says Ludik who is expected to play and bring much-needed direction to Ulster's injury-hit and Ireland-diluted backline on Friday evening.

"You just want to help the guys out but, at last, I'm back and hopefully fit enough to play," he added.

As Ludik maintains the three-week break in games has seen the squad regroup with added determination to arrest this slump in form.

"The guys are hungry to get out again and show the supporters that we've got so much passion for this jersey.

"And we have to get our momentum back."

Meanwhile, Chris Henry could yet be making his long-awaited first appearance of the season for Ulster after finally recovering from shoulder surgery.

It is believed that the 32-year-old flanker, who last played for the province in May's PRO12 semi-final defeat at Leinster, has now made a full recovery and may well feature in Les Kiss's match-day squad to take on Zebre.

Henry's involvement would be a major boost for Kiss's struggling side. However, the hugely experienced player might still be ruled out due to not having sufficiently recovered from an illness.

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