Belfast Telegraph

Ludik eager to perform more away day heroics


Euro vision: Louis Ludik is determined to add to Ulster’s scalps in the Champions Cup
Euro vision: Louis Ludik is determined to add to Ulster’s scalps in the Champions Cup
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

When it comes to maintaining a European interest into the spring, so often it is the work done in December that can be defining.

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The double-headers are undoubtedly one of the highlights of the Champions Cup schedule, largely down to how much it is that hinges on them. While Scarlets are already in the last-chance saloon having lost both games, and Ulster are peering in the door to see how the place looks, in 10 days' time Pool 1 will have a definitive shape.

Not fully formed perhaps but we'll certainly be in a position to take a well educated guess as to how many and who will be making plans for the quarter-finals in the last weekend of March.

Come the first meeting on Friday (Parc y Scarlets, 7.45pm kick-off), the equation for both teams is simple. The hosts know that, no matter what else happens, they simply must win. Ulster, meanwhile, could sustain a loss without terminal damage being done to their last eight hopes, but would surely need to win out from that point on to make the knockouts for the first time since 2014.

A win for Dan McFarland's men and all of a sudden their prospects are decidedly rosy, with two home games and a trip to struggling Leicester still to come.

The northern province have won twice on the road already this season in the league, but when it comes to the most impressive results on their travels, more often than not in recent years they have come in Europe.

Since Louis Ludik joined in the summer of 2014, they haven't managed any away victories against regular foes Leinster, Munster or Scarlets, and yet have won twice in France and last season beat Harlequins at The Stoop.

"Since I've been here, we've had Toulouse and Harlequins, even that first Leicester game (in 2015) was quite close," said the utility back.

"In Europe, even with our record, we tend to play well. We're going to go for it. I always say it's something different. There's an excitement. You're playing against the best. Even though it's Scarlets (from the PRO14), you know you're going to get their best. It's very exciting. It's going to be fast and furious."

The two sides sit level on points domestically and have split their two prior meetings this season, with the home side coming out on top on both occasions.

There is little doubt, however, that it is Wayne Pivac's men who are still seen as a more viable threat to lift silverware this year.

Ulster have been winning ugly while, when they lose, it has often been dramatic - such as a pair of historic inter-pro losses to Munster and Connacht.

Cardiff last week was a fine example of the former, Ulster winning 16-12 despite a poor first half and the Blues getting the edge in the try count.

"It wasn't pretty but the guys did well in the end to push through," added Ludik. "There were a lot of mistakes but the guys showed a lot of character for the victory. Sometimes when you wrestle them out it shows character, shows that guys are playing for each other.

"But we're not holding onto the ball at all, we're not showing enough patience. We look dangerous when we have the ball but we give it away too easily, we're too frivolous with it. We need to fix that.

"It's really just having patience. It's basics but without the basics you can't play rugby and sometimes we forget them and struggle.

"When we hold onto the ball and run hard, we've the guys to break tackles. Whenever we try different stuff, go away from the game plan, we're losing the ball in contact. We need to play much, much better than that."

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