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Ludik: Forget the festivities - stand up and deliver

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Big game player: Louis Ludik knows only a fully focused Ulster can taste success

Big game player: Louis Ludik knows only a fully focused Ulster can taste success

Big game player: Louis Ludik knows only a fully focused Ulster can taste success

Having spent the majority of his career playing in his native South Africa, Louis Ludik is used to being on his summer holidays over the Christmas period but the fullback knows there can be no distractions ahead of Ulster's important inter-pro contest with Connacht at the Kingspan Stadium tonight (kick-off 6.45pm).

Admitting that there will have been "no turkey or lamb" at yesterday's dinner, Ludik planned to stick to his normal pre-match routines and, although his family are visiting, there was no doubting his focus on today's visit from Pat Lam's side.

He said: "Mentally it's Christmas and it can be tough but I think we just must be ready and switched on.

"It's a first for me because obviously this our off time in South Africa so it's going to be a mental thing.

"For myself, and Franco (van der Merwe) and Wiehahn (Herbst), we haven't played over Christmas but we've talked and know that we have to be switched on.

"It's not an excuse, you have to step up and play well."

Connacht haven't beaten Ulster in Belfast since November 1960, but Ludik knows that this is a very different team to previous incarnations of the western province.

Should the perennial underdog come out on top tonight, they would leapfrog Ulster in the table and, although they were defeated by Leinster in the RDS last week, they have already beaten Matt O'Connor's men at the Sportsground this season.

"We're putting in a big emphasis this week and we know they're doing very well this season," said Ludik.

"The fact that they're playing well does give you that extra motivation because you know that you can't just pitch up and think it's going to be easy. It's going to be a tough, tough game.

"They're flying high and it's going to be a massive game.

"We need to step up and please the crowd."

The game takes on an even greater significance given Ulster's recent struggles, with three defeats in four having ended their Champions Cup hopes and resulted in them dropping out of the play-off positions in the Pro12.

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Ludik, however, is relishing the challenge of proving wrong the naysayers, even if he admits that injuries - Ruan Pienaar will again be sidelined with a knee complaint - are continuing to take their toll on the squad.

"It's exciting. Obviously we're under pressure at the moment; we had two losses in the Pro12 so we're putting a lot of pressure on ourselves to step up.

"Especially in a derby, playing at home, it's a massive, massive game for us.

"At some stage all teams go through a difficult patch.

"There's still a couple of injuries to key players, and there's a couple of top of the table clashes so, with injuries, it does make it really tough.

"It's one of those things that guys are going to have to put their hand up and fight. A lot of us are just making crucial errors at crucial times.

"It's tough but that's the challenge of being a professional rugby player. You have to take the whole package.

"The challenge is what we live for, it can't always go well and it can't always happen for you.

"It's not going to be easy but we just have to work hard as a team."

One area where he admits immediate improvement is required is in defence where Ulster looked well below par against the Ospreys.

"We're making a lot of missed tackles and that puts the system under pressure," conceded the 28-year-old.

"If you have one, two, three consecutive missed tackles it puts the whole system in jeopardy and makes it very difficult.

"Quality sides will finish and that's what happens. One or two linebreaks and you're 14 points behind, playing catch-up rugby.

"That's always going to be tough."

Working in Ulster's favour tonight is the fact that the match will take place at the Kingspan Stadium.

Only Toulon have beaten Ulster in BT6 this season, while they have bested only Cardiff away, and recently suffered road losses to Munster, Scarlets and the Ospreys.

With the way the away performances have been going, Ludik believes maintaining the impressive home record is imperative.

"If you lose at home it just puts extra pressure on you as a team.

"Obviously the crowd helps immensely and it's always easier when you sleep at home and you're more comfortable.

"To win away against quality sides is always going to be tough, especially when you're not playing well.

"Not picking up a bonus point here and there, or even a scrappy win (means) wins at home are a must."

Secure one tonight and even skipping the Christmas dinner will seem worth it.


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