With a new one-year extension signed prop Ricky Lutton is hoping make the starting tighthead spot his own for the remainder of this season and beyond, WRITES CIARAN DONAGHY.
The tighthead has featured in 19 Ulster games this season is glad to have his future sorted out.
“I’m glad to get it out of the way and I can just concentrate on playing through to the end of the season,” said Lutton.
“I want to get another good pre-season behind me and kick on next year. There is a new rival arriving in Rodney Ah You so it will increase the competition and hopefully it will drive us all on to bigger and better things.”
With Wiehahn Herbst side lined Lutton has become the rock of the Ulster scrum.
“It’s great to get a string of games as it has been something that I have been crying out for over the last few years. Through injuries, lack of form and other things I haven’t really been able to get it so it is great to get a run of games.
“I still think I have a lot to work on and improve on and I can bring a lot more, I’m happy to get a run of games but I think now it is about kicking on and putting in sort big performances.”
Lutton has featured in every Ulster game bar two this season – and is expected to start from the bench on Sunday against Cardiff Blues in the Welsh capital – compared to this time last year when he hadn’t made a single provincial appearance.
“I think I only had two in the whole of last season so it is certainly a big change and the body is feeling it. There are certainly a few more knocks but it is part and parcel of being a rugby player, you want to play, you want to be involved and you want to feel part of the squad.
“Last year was a tough time for me I was struggling with a couple of niggles. Mentally when you get to February and you haven’t played a game it is really tough to hang in there certainly this year it’s been a much happier place and the missus will testify it’s been a lot happier at home.”
Ulster went from first in the PRO12 table to fourth after a disappointing defeat against the Scarlets last weekend.
“I think we addressed some issues after the Glasgow game and we played the better rugby and had the territory. We had the possession but we weren’t clinical and that carried on to the Scarlets game,” said Lutton.
“They came here with a real attitude that they were going to have a crack physically again we had the chances in the 22 we just couldn’t turn that into points.
“Our maul didn’t fire again which was disappointing.
“We turned over some ball and knocked on some ball and to be fair they took all their chances and that is the lesson we’ll have to learn, you can’t afford to have five goes to get a try when you get in there you have to have the mentality you’re going to score every time.”
“All the lads had a look at the video before we met as a team and you could tell everyone was a bit sheepish and not looking forward to it but to be fair to Les and the coaches they didn’t go over the top or turn it into a manhunt, the players took responsibility for their mistakes me included I had a couple of shocking moments, those are the things we can fix the lacks of discipline or the mental errors we can fix that individually, it just wasn’t a finger pointing exercise it was finding solutions which is important moving towards the business end of the season.”
Cardiff may be ninth in the table but they showed last weekend against Leinster they are a tough nut to crack at home.
“They have a very good home record this year, the Arms Park has always been very difficult to go to over the years they have a good vocal support there, the Leinster game the conditions were awful either lineout could hardly throw the ball in during the second half, they put in a very physical performance and Leinster had to pull out a few stops into the wind in the second half to get away with the win and Cardiff had a few chances to sneak it at the end.”
Ulster are fourth four points behind leaders Connacht and while the first goal is to make the semi final Lutton knows a home draw in the last four could be crucial.
“It’s incredibly competitive up there and even the teams a bit adrift of the top four have games in hand, one good away win or one bad home defeat like we suffered you can find yourself sliding down the table pretty quickly or on the flip side move up it quickly, it’s important we take it one game at a time but at the same time we have our eye on the bigger picture we know what is required if we keep winning games it’s in our control.”
“Our aim is to final top of the log and get that home semi final and that will be a good start for us and then we can push on from there and get that silverware that we have been hovering around the last few years and haven’t got over the line, that’s what we want and that would be a successful season less it would have been a successful season.”