Belfast Telegraph

'It's a different era': Ulster's elder statesman Louis Ludik keen to lead next generation with wise advice

Going strong: Louis Ludik says Ulster’s rising stars have infectious enthusiasm
Going strong: Louis Ludik says Ulster’s rising stars have infectious enthusiasm

By Michael Sadlier

It's simply non-negotiable, the march of time and all that. The pertinence of such subject matter is hard to dodge for Louis Ludik, who turned 33 at the beginning of the month.

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Only a handful of players in the Ulster squad have a three as the first digit of their age, but Ludik is out in front as having two of them and is a decade, or more, older than a considerable number of the senior set-up.

In fact, Ludik is the only member of the backline in his fourth decade, so the versatile player, who joined Ulster from Agen back in 2014, can't really avoid the issue, even if it's a case of "you're only as old as you feel" when the matter comes up.

"There is obviously massive youth (in the squad) and that keeps me young as well," he says.

To Ludik's credit, his performances have rarely, if ever, been anything other than stacked with commitment and quality and, even though the inevitable injuries have intervened, the South African still very much looks the part and delivers on the field.

Whether Ludik will remain at Ulster, or even keep playing, after this season - he is thought to be out of contract this summer - is yet to be known and, understandably, not up for discussion.

Even so, he notes the fact that the age gap cannot be completely side-stepped, nor the fact that time is moving on.

"It is a different era," Ludik admitted of a situation which, doubtless, Rory Best was familiar with in the latter part of his Ulster career.

"They (the much younger players) have different interests, social media and so many different things.

"When we were away in South Africa it was good to mix and really get to know each other and see what they do in their spare time."

If enthusiasm alone can keep him playing then Ludik has nailed it, but he offers much more through his skillset and huge experience.

There is also the landmark 100th Ulster appearance in the foreground, which would be an entirely fitting accolade to collect, with five games, including tonight against Cardiff, to go.

"That, for me, would be a great achievement and a massive honour to have played that many times for Ulster," he said.

He marked his birthday out in South Africa, though it fell between the ghastly performance at the Cheetahs and the bonus-point at the Kings.

"We'd trained the whole day," he recalled. "That evening it was dinner with my parents, so it was really good to see them. I hadn't seen them on my birthday for a couple of years, so they spoilt me a little bit."

At least he returned to Belfast off the back of a win and his first start of the season after having put in a full 80 minutes in Port Elizabeth.

"The Cheetahs game obviously wasn't good, conceding over 60 points is never a good thing, but for the guys to step up and work so hard for that win at the Kings was good," he said.

"But we didn't have a good second half (Ulster scored seven points, the same as their opponents) and we have to learn to put teams to the sword."

This next segment of Guinness PRO14 matches, prior to the first European round at Bath, is now crucial to put Ulster on a firmer footing, especially tonight's home game with the Blues and next week's hosting of Zebre, though Dan McFarland's side then have to travel to Munster - scene of a record shellacking last season - before going into Champions Cup mode.

"We have to look at it and try to win these two home games," said Ludik, though he accepts that Cardiff have narrowly lost to Edinburgh and Glasgow and are a considerable threat to Ulster's home record.

"Obviously we target every game (as a win). But especially in the beginning of the season, you slip a couple and you think you are okay, but at the back end (of the season) it is always those bonus points, or one or two points at the end of games, you should have had, or maybe you should have won that game, all maybe means you don't get a home game in the semi-finals.

"And that makes a huge difference."

It's a reasonable point, and to illustrate it he throws in the try bonus Ulster snaffled from the tanking at the Cheetahs.

"That is one thing Dan wants us to do, to keep on going, no matter what the scoreline is, to never stop fighting," he said.

Now Ludik is beginning to sound more like a true battle-scarred elder statesman.

"Yes, it has been a great journey," he added.

It's not ready to end just yet.

Belfast Telegraph


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