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Ludik is ready to dive into defining period

Full-back believes Ulster can banish memories of their difficult run by building up momentum and resurrecting bid for PRO12 title joy

By Jonathan Bradley

With the lift provided by last week's return to winning ways, the visit from fellow play-off chasers Glasgow to Kingspan Stadium today (3pm kick-off) takes on titanic proportions in the context of Ulster's season, with full-back Louis Ludik believing that nobody in the province is ready to write off this campaign.

A first win since before Christmas last time out against Edinburgh didn't improve the side's league position - they still sit sixth coming into this afternoon's game - but a second victory of the season against the Warriors would see them leapfrog Gregor Townsend's men in the standings and put the pressure on the current top four.

And while it's been a tough season so far for Les Kiss' men, Ludik says the side's silverware ambitions have yet to diminish.

"We feel like the season isn't over," said the ever-positive South African, who becomes Irish qualified this summer.

"Our goal is to win the league and we feel there's still a chance.

"If we win every game there's a chance to go into the semis and be in the final and win it.

"That is our goal at the end of the day. If we were at the top like Munster are then it would be a completely different story.

"For them right now it's a success, but at the end of the day if you don't win a cup then it doesn't matter how you did throughout the season.

"It's all or nothing. After the final we'll see if it's a success or not."

Ulster playing catch-up in recent seasons is nothing new. Ever since Mark Anscombe's men led the league from wire to wire only to lose the final to Leinster in 2013, the side have relied on big performances in the spring to nail down their place in the end-of-season shake up.

And while it is rarely easy on the nerves, Ludik believes the players have to embrace the pressure.

"That's what we like," said the man who turned 30 in October. "As rugby players if we don't like the pressure then we'll struggle.

"So we enjoy the pressure and we sometimes make it difficult for ourselves, but we've had some tough runs if you look at the teams we've played, especially away.

"(Even) if we had a strong side with everyone healthy and we played those sides away then it'll always be very tough, especially if they're on form which they were.

"Those games were very tough, and they did break up a bit of momentum, but the games coming up are must-wins for us.

"We know how we can play, we showed that in the first half last week.

"We disappointed ourselves with a few errors but we know we can cut them out going forward."

And against Glasgow, Ludik is calling for further improvement from last weekend's much-needed win.

The hosts started strongly against the side from the Scottish capital, and indeed wrapped up the try bonus by half-time, but found themselves clinging on for victory after failing to score again after the turn.

"They're always a very tough team," said Ludik of a side that has a Champions Cup quarter-final clash with Saracens to look forward to in April.

"They have a lot of talent in their team but they're coached well as well, and they finish off games very well.

"If we play like we did against Edinburgh then we'll struggle in the last 20 minutes.

"Every time I've played them those last 20 minutes have been key, we might be ahead by a couple of points but they always come back to take it away from us, so they're going to be very important.

"Kingspan means a lot to us and I'm sure it'll be packed out again and it's always an awesome atmosphere playing here.

"If another win comes our way, it'll really help the momentum and winning breeds winning. It'll help us absolutely."

Kiss has been able to call upon fit-again Ruan Pienaar, as well as Irish internationals Tommy Bowe, Luke Marshall and Craig Gilroy, the latter fresh off an eye-catching hat-trick in national colours against Italy last week.

And while Charles Piutau and Stuart McCloskey failed to overcome knocks, there is still plenty of interest in the man who will occupy the No.8 jersey.

Marcell Coetzee made his long awaited debut for Ulster after an ACL injury, and he certainly impressed his compatriot on the maiden outing.

"Yeah, 26 carries in his first game back, the most carries in an Ulster jersey in the PRO12 (since stats started being recorded), was quite impressive given he isn't even match fit yet," enthused Ludik. "It's very exciting for the future. I think the guys are really going to enjoy him, he's a really hard worker, he never stops and he's extremely fit.

"Being out for 10 months with a knee injury and to come back like that is seriously impressive stuff."

Ulster's play-off charge will need no doubt need more of the same this afternoon.

Belfast Telegraph


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