With John Afoa in New Zealand for Christmas and Declan Fitzpatrick out due to a virus, Ricky Lutton will takeover in the tight head shirt for the home Pro12 game against Zebre at Ravenhill on Friday night.
Lutton’s last start came against Treviso in September and he is hoping to put in a big performance against the Italians.
“It certainly is, was a bit unexpected sometimes a lot of these opportunities come along because of someone else’s misfortune, I just needto grab the bull by the horns and go out there and put in a big performance,” said Lutton.
It’s Ulster’s fourth consecutive game against Italian opposition and Lutton feels that makes it easier to prepare but is expecting a tough night at the coal face.
“It’s always difficult, they are big abrasive men and they will come at us really hard in the scrum, they will be looking to get underneath me so I have to work hard to stick down.
“We have done a bit of work this week on staying down and I have good second rows behind me and there is good power in there, so if I can keep myself square and straight I think we’ll go well.
“I think it makes it easier to prepare because you know what’s coming, we played Zebre a couple of weeks ago so we know what kind of game they play is similar to Treviso.
“They have big hard runners coming around the corner, they take you on and they look to outlast you and beat you up physically. There are a few changes this week and there will be a lot of boys looking to prove a point.
“We’re really going to go out there and look to lay down a marker and get a real good win this week.”
After Treviso, Ulster face two massive Irish derbies against Leinster and Munster before the concluding two rounds of the Heineken Cup.
“If you look at the really great teams over the last few years the likes of Leinster and the Leicester Tigers the thing that really stands out is their depth in their squad, so it is up to the guys that do come in to step up in their performances to show we have that depth and that we can compete on two fronts,” added Lutton.
“Looking forward to the Irish derbies they are the ones you really want to play in, those interpro games are the ones I grew up watching before the Celtic League came along, it means a lot being an Ulster man playing against Leinster and Munster and it means that bit extra.”
Lutton starts with club mate Niall Annett as Rob Herring will be rested.
“I know Niall very well, we came up through the ranks at Belfast Harlequins together and we’d played a few games at Ulster and a lot for the Ravens and it is great to see him in the mix and I’m delighted for him, I’m sure we’ll go out there and do it for the Quins,” he added.
Lutton is enjoying the new scrum rules which came into effect at the start of the season.
“I’m enjoying them and I think it has made for a cleaner contest, if you get your job right and you are good and square you do get rewarded with penalties or you can get good attacking platforms,” he said.
“Last year it was a bit of a lottery sometimes penalties being given and the referee really didn’t know but this year it is a lot easier to spot the player at fault and I think that is a good thing.
“I’m liking the new laws and as a tight head if I can get my job right there is good rewards but I know I have to be spot on at every single scrum because is you’re not right the loose head can take advantage of you.
“I don’t know if it speeds the game up, we’re in the scrum for longer so it drains me more and scrums are probably lasting 15 to 20 seconds which is pretty sapping on the legs, it leads to more attacking opportunities from the backrow or the back line because they is more cleaner and stable ball as opposed to last season where a lot of scrums would end in free kicks and penalties.”
Lutton skippered the Ravens in last Friday’s British and Irish Cup win over Ayr.
“To captain Ulster at any level is a great honour and I wasn’t expecting it but when Clarkey (Allen Clarke) came up to me said Paddy wanted to concentrate on his own game and would I take over, it was a big surprise but it was a tremendous honour, it was great to lead the team to a good win.”
“I don’t have much captaincy experience it’s just been filling in I may have captained the U14’s at school but not much since, it’s not really something I look to do I don’t think you need a C beside your name to lead I think you can do that be your actions on the pitch.”
“We were disappointed with the result in Ayr it was great to come on in that first half a Deramore and show what we were made off, I think the boys showed pride and I was delighted how they fronted up and to get the win.”
With Afoa off to Gloucester next season there is a huge void in the Ulster front row to be filled but Lutton just wants to get more game time this year
“With John leaving there is an opportunity there for next season between me and Declan to fight for that starting spot but at the same time I can’t look too far ahead, there is a lot of rugby still to be played this season and John won’t play every minute, I really want to push on and get as much game time as I can and perform well and that will stand me in good steed for next season.”