Vote for Ulster's team of the decade: Who is the province's best full-back of the 2010s?
As the decade draws to a close, we've been asking you to vote for your favourite player in each position over the last 10 years at Ulster Rugby.
Rugby round up Newsletter
It's about the come to a close, with the final position - full-back - now up for debate.
Voting will close at 12 noon on Thursday (December 19) so make sure you have your say on all positions before then: Loosehead prop - Hooker - Tighthead prop - Locks - Blindside flanker - Openside flanker - Number eight - Scrum-half - Fly-half - Wingers - Inside centre - Outside centre
1. Jared Payne
Signed from the Auckland Blues in 2011 as a three-year project player, Jared Payne’s first season with Ulster was ruined by injury.
Payne (right) made his debut halfway through September of that year but only three weeks later would damage his ACL and be out for the remainder of his first campaign, missing out on the side’s run to the Heineken Cup final against Leinster. Returning to start the next season, Payne’s class quickly shone through with his creativity at full-back a key part of a side then renowned as one of Europe’s most attacking teams.
He played more at centre in later seasons, resulting in him replacing the retiring Brian O’Driscoll in the national side once he became Irish-qualified on residency grounds.
Ultimately he earned 20 caps for Joe Schmidt’s side, winning a Six Nations in 2015 and going to the World Cup later that same year. Was a British and Irish Lion in 2017, a tour on which he would play his final games with his retirement due to injury confirmed the next year. Has seemingly moved from playing to coaching seamlessly and has been earning strong reviews for his work as the side’s defence coach.
2. Charles Piutau
Still cited by many players at Kingspan Stadium as the most talented individual they have ever played with, Charles Piutau’s (above) stint at Ulster was full of highlight reel moments.
Among the province’s most audacious transfer coups, the 17-times capped All Black arrived in Belfast after a short stint with Wasps. Having been a short-lived star in the English Premiership during his one season in yellow and black, anticipation was naturally sky-high by the time the Kiwi pulled on the white jersey for the first time in the opening game of the 2016/17 season.
There were memorable moments aplenty as he quickly formed an electric partnership with the emerging Jacob Stockdale but his stay coincided with two seasons when the province played no knock-out rugby. Left in the summer of 2018 to sign with Pat Lam’s Bristol where he recently agreed fresh terms to remain at Ashton Gate until 2022.
3. Louis Ludik
Surely one of the province’s most unheralded pieces of business in recent years, Louis Ludik (below) joined the long line of traffic between the Natal Sharks and Kingspan Stadium in the summer of 2014 via a stint with Agen in France.
A deal negotiated only in the eventuality that his side missed out on a place in the next season’s Top 14 — they were beaten in a play-off — he was soon on his way to Belfast only to find the Director of Rugby and head coach that signed him (David Humphreys and Mark Anscombe respectively) had already moved on. From that instability somehow emerged one of Ulster’s most reliable players of the decade, a consistent performer who has been a favourite pick for multiple head coaches.
Able to play wing and centre, Ludik’s aerial ability is an asset to any back-three while he seems to excel in those damp, dark days for which Ravenhill became famous.
Recently made his 100th appearance for the province in a PRO14 win over Scarlets and remains a hugely valued part of Dan McFarland’s side.
Belfast Telegraph Digital