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Uslter Rugby: Ricky Lutton ready to make most of rare start

By Niall Crozier

Ricky Lutton has two goals tonight – help Ulster beat Newport Gwent Dragons and produce an eye-catching performance good enough to persuade his employers that he deserves a contract.

When those ahead of you in the queue for the Ulster tight-head jersey happen to be 2011 World Cup winning former All Black John Afoa and seven times-capped Ireland prop Declan Fitzpatrick, your chances to start are somewhat limited. Tonight Lutton gets one and, in view of his situation, at this moment, he is keen to make it count.

Afoa is moving on to join Aviva Premiership club Gloucester, while Fitzpatrick has been plagued by injury. Those two facts should mean Lutton's stock has risen.

But to date there has been no confirmation and with his development contract expiring at the end of the season, Lutton is anxious to know where he stands. On Wednesday he celebrated his 28th birthday, so time is marching on.

In the circumstances, an invitation from Ulster to sign on the dotted line would be very welcome.

"I'm on a development contract for the rest of this year. Hopefully I'll get sorted out for next year and be able to kick on.

"That's why I just want to go out there on Friday against the Dragons and show what I can do.

"They're a really gnarly, hard, physical team.

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"They've just beaten Glasgow and they pushed Leinster very close at the RDS so they're a stronger side than they were a couple of seasons ago. This will be a big test for us."

Coach Mark Anscombe has encouraged Lutton and others like him to grasp this chance.

"He really stresses that this is the opportunity for guys who maybe don't get too many – you might get only one or two and if you don't take them then there are plenty of other people in line waiting to step up," Lutton said.

"He has stressed that we are a squad and we can't just rely on the big names because sometimes – like now, with the Six Nations on – they aren't available. What he wants is for us to make it difficult for him to leave anybody out so that the internationals know they aren't just going to be included automatically when they come back.

"He has told us that he wants us to give him a bit of a headache."

Pointing to Ulster colleagues who got a chance and created exactly the sort of selection problem Anscombe wants, Lutton said: "Look at Stuart Olding – because there were injuries to a couple of others he came in from nowhere.

"He'd been playing for Harlequins and had a pretty good pedigree but hadn't really played any senior games. By the end of the season he'd been capped by Ireland, so it happens.

"Look at Hendy (Iain Henderson) – similar example. Luke Marshall is another. Callum Black – he's put his hand up and is pushing Tom Court really hard now for that loose-head berth. There are lots of young guys who have come in and have done well. Rob Herring's another one – he's been capped by Ireland 'A' already and been included in the Six Nations' extended squad.

"All of that is encouraging because it shows that if you put a string of good performances together, you move up."

With Afoa on his way to England, it is probable that Ulster will seek to replace like with like. How does he feel about that?

"For me it's not really about what Ulster are going to do or about who else comes in.

"I've just got to keep pushing myself, trying as best I can, working to improve week after week and always trying to put in a better performance than the last one.

"If somebody else comes in, I see that as healthy competition that's hopefully going to push me on to a new level."

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