South African full back Louis Ludik is going into unchartered territory when he faces Connacht on Boxing Day at the Kingspan Stadium as it will be his first ever game over Christmas.
Ludik has been has being playing since 2006 amassing over 90 appearances for the Golden Lions and the Sharks in South Africa but with the South Hemisphere season going from February to October he never played in December, last season was spent in France with Agen but he had two weeks off over the festive period.
“It’s a first for me because it would be our off time in South Africa, it’s my first game over Christmas and for the South Africa’s it’s going to be a mental thing, myself, Franco and Wiehahn we haven’t played over Christmas we have to switch on and know it is the day after Christmas and play our best, said Ludik.
“The family is over but I think I will stick to my normal regime and eat my normal food not too much turkey or lamb it will be a normal day, mentally it can be tough because it is Christmas but we just have to be switched on the day.”
After loses to Munster and the Ospreys Ulster have dropped out of the playoff places in the Pro12 table.
“At some stage all teams go through a difficult patch especially if there is a couple injuries and then a couple of guys coming in, it’s always difficult for them to come in especially at this stage of the season there are a couple of very tough top of the table clashes.
“When there are injuries it is always going to be difficult especially with injuries and winning away at quality sides is always going to be tough especially not playing well and not picking up a bonus point or a scrappy win, it’s one of those things where the guys are going to have to put their hands up.
“They are a lot of us making crucial errors at crucial times of the game and the errors build up and that is why we are losing games.”
Ulster are also leaking tries but Ludik feels that is just down to individual mistakes.
“We are missing a lot of tackles that puts the system under pressure, when there is one, two or three missed tackles it puts the how system in jeopardy and that makes it very difficult so then we have to scramble and quality sides will finish and that is what is happening, there are one or two line breaks that puts you 14 points behind and playing catch up rugby.
“It’s tough but that is the challenge about being a professional rugby player you have to take the whole package, sometimes it goes well and sometimes you have a couple of losses and you have to step up, it can’t always go well and happen for you, it’s not going to be easy for you and we just have to stick as a team and work hard.”
Connacht come to Belfast sixth in the table and on the back of two wins over Bayonne and pushing Leinster all the way.
“It’s exciting, we are under pressure at the moment with two loses in a row now and it is not going well for us as a team and we are putting a lot of pressure on ourselves to step up especially in a derby game playing a home and it is a massive game for us and we have worked hard and we have put in a big emphasis this week.
“We know they are flying high and they are doing very well this season so it is going to be a massive game so we have to step up and please the home crowd.
“The fact they are playing well gives you that extra motivation because you know you just can’t pitch up and think it will be easy it’s going to be a tough game, it’s seems it will be raining and that always makes it difficult.”
Ludik could face All Black legend Mils Muliaina who is one of only five New Zelanders to reach 100 international caps (Richie McCaw, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woddcock and Dan Carter).
“He is a quality player, he has been injured and I’m looking forward if he plays, he’s played a lot for the All Blacks and you look forward to playing in games like that to see where you are and to challenge yourself against the best in the world and he is an unbelievable player.
With only one away win from seven away games Ludik knows Ulster can’t afford any slip ups at the Kingspan.
“Wins at home are a must, it makes it very difficult if you lose at home because it puts extra pressure on you as a team, the crowd helps and it is easier because you sleep at home and you are comfortable but you have to step up and play well especially a team like Connacht who are coming with a lot of confidence we just have to pitch on the day.”