Louis Ludik has lavished praise on Jared Payne for the seamless transition he has made into the role of Ulster defence coach.
Ludik was previously a team-mate of Payne’s at the northern province – before the Ireland international was forced to retire last summer due to a concussion injury he suffered on the 2017 Lions Tour.
He has since joined Dan McFarland’s coaching ticket at the Kingspan Stadium, where he is also joined by former Welsh scrum-half Dwayne Peel.
“He’s so knowledgeable and very good at what he does. Whenever he was struggling with the concussion, we thought it was going to be temporary obviously last year, but when he stepped into that role he really impressed. The way he stepped from player to that coaching role was really, really good – just his presentations and stuff were completely different,” Ludik remarked in Belfast on Tuesday.
“His knowledge of the game is unreal and he’s approachable. He also played a year or two ago, so he knows exactly what’s going on. He’s very practical and him being able to play centre and full-back, it helps us quite a lot and he knows the way we think.
“When we do something and we might make a mistake or a positional error, he understands why we would have made that error. He would try and assist us in making another decision, so that’s a nice thing. He knows why we do certain things and he can relate very well. He’s really professional and he’s doing an outstanding job.”
Prior to hanging up his boots, Payne had been earmarked as a potential coach. The South African native can also see a future backroom role for one of his current provincial team-mates – should they seek a similar move into that area.
“We always say Darren Cave can be a very good coach. I don’t know if he will, but he’s very detailed and spots a lot of things in video sessions that are very good. You have to have a passion for that, that’s the other thing. You always see some guys who might be good in a coaching role, but Jared’s definitely up there.
“He’s really brilliant and we’re very fortunate to have him as a coach. Defensively, you can see that out on the pitch, the way we’ve been defending the last few weeks has been really good. There’s a lot of stuff he puts in and enforces during the week, so it’s really good.”
Moving into tomorrow evening’s PRO14 clash with Munster at the Kingspan, morale around the Ulster camp has been significantly boosted by back-to-back Champions Cup wins against Scarlets. Ludik was absent when they suffered a gruelling 64-7 defeat to Johann van Graan’s men back in September and understands they can ill afford to let their standards slip again.
“Obviously, you look at past performances and you know when you’re off the game. Whenever you don’t play as well as you could, Munster will punish you, so we know if we’re not up for it on Friday night, it can be the same result.
“We know we have to match them physically and be better than them. They’re going to bring their A Game and we have to match that. It doesn’t matter when and where you play Munster, it’s always going to be tough. We know that and that’s the way we see it.”
A summer 2014 recruit from French outfit Agen, Ludik has amassed 82 caps and nine tries during his time at Ulster. He has yet to feature in the knockout rounds of European rugby’s premier competition, but their recent exploits have placed them in the frame for a spot in the Champions Cup last-eight. Even though Ulster face daunting encounters against Pool 4 pace-setters Racing 92 (home) and Leicester Tigers (away) in the new year, he feels they have bolstered their chances of progression.
“I think we’ve put ourselves in a good position, but Racing have shown home and away it doesn’t matter to them. They’ve played really good rugby. They’ve won away twice now, so they’re going to be tough. A lot of times with the French teams, they maybe don’t always travel well, but Racing have shown that’s not the case.
“It’s going to be tough and then we have Leicester. We’ve played there before and it’s really tough and it’s an old stadium and can be very intimidating. But what we’ve done now. we can’t just throw that away. We need to step up and put ourselves in a better place to qualify,” Ludik added.
Kingspan competition winners enjoyed a coaching masterclass with Ulster Rugby Head Coach, Dan McFarland as well as star players, Louis Ludik and Jordi Murphy.
80 students from winning schools, Derryhale primary school, Lurgan Junior High School, Threemilehouse National School, St. Louis Secondary School took part in the training session and experienced a Kingspan Stadium tour which was made possible by Ulster Rugby’s main sponsor.