Belfast Telegraph

Ludik: Beating saracens is key to our European hopes

By Michael Sadlier

The story of the prop who thought he could kick sees Louis Ludik's face crease into a huge smile.

Indeed, the event happened just last weekend and brought a rare moment of humour on what had been a sombre time to be around Oyonnax in the immediate aftermath of the horror in Paris.

After the cancellation of last Saturday's opening European game, the Ulster players had some time to kill before returning home so Ruan Pienaar and Wiehahn Herbst ended up messing about with a ball provided by some local kids in downtown Oyonnax.

The kick-about with the youngsters was going smoothly until Herbst tried to emulate his scrum-half and things then went dramatically awry with the ball leaving his foot and inaccurately heading off to disappear onto a nearby balcony.

Needless to say, much hilarity ensued from those who witnessed it.

Though the actual ball in question wasn't recovered, Herbst, who didn't quite see the funny side in the same way as his team-mates, saw to it that a replacement was purchased from the Oyonnax shop and the new ball was signed by the Ulster squad which more than satisfied the locals.

"It was hilarious," says Ludik with a hearty laugh.

"The thing is that he's still saying it was a perfect kick and that it was just the place he was in was really very narrow.

"But, you know, props do actually like kicking and they do it in training," he adds with the hope being put out there that such inaccurate extravagance won't be repeated on Friday night when Saracens come calling.

So, back to Friday night and Ulster's now opening European outing with their old rivals who are currently unbeaten leaders of the Aviva Premiership which they actually won last season. It's a massive task and, as it's a home game, the win for Ulster is non-negotiable against the side who, with Owen Farrell in the driving seat, efficiently saw off a muted Toulouse last weekend.

You wonder if Ludik has been brought up to speed with the Saracens issue, what with Mark McCall and the two quarter-final defeats which pre-dated Ludik's arrival here, and it turns out that he has.

"Yes I had a bit of a history lesson," says the 29-year-old South African.

"But I also watched the last one (in 2014) and it was just before I signed here (from Agen) and it obviously was when JP (Jared Payne) got his red card.

"For me it was just very impressive the way Ulster played virtually the whole game with 14 guys and how they stayed in the game and could have won it," he adds.

Though it's not knock-out rugby this time, winning is all that counts if Ulster are to avoid being on the rack in Pool One from the outset. And Ludik may be starting for the first time since suffering a nasty finger fracture against Cardiff Blues with him only returning to the squad's bench for the game that wasn't in Oyonnax.

"Yes, if you lose a home game it's almost game over," he says regarding what defeat at the Kingspan will do to qualifying hopes.

"It might have been a different story if we'd played last week and won but now it's our first game and if we lose this it's going to be an uphill battle."

Which leads to a discussion on whether it was a good or bad thing for Ulster to be coming into this without having played last weekend.

"There are negatives and positives out of not playing.

"Obviously we are a little bit fresher but this is now our first game and big test."

Still, he remains upbeat that Ulster will upset the odds and topple McCall's high achievers.

"We've got the team and we've got the confidence to do it.

"It's going to be a huge challenge for us and obviously with the crowd behind us at Kingspan we can pull through."

Belfast Telegraph


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