Lewis Ludlam: ‘This time last year I was fighting for a club contract’ | Sport

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Twenty-four hours after Lewis Ludlam’s remarkable rise into England’s World Cup squad he posted two pictures on social media. In the first he is belting out the national anthem just before his senior Test debut last Sunday while in the second he is doing the same, four years earlier, at the Junior World Cup in Italy. As fate would have it, Ellis Genge is standing next to him in both and Ludlam accompanied the images with caption: “4 years apart. Aint nothing changed.”

It resonates because as Ludlam is only too aware, much has changed in the intervening period. Twelve months ago he was fighting for his career, told by Northampton that he was unlikely to feature in their future plans. Twelve weeks ago he was not due to be part of the England squad to face the Barbarians, only to be added because Teimana Harrison was called away to the birth of his child. Even 12 days ago Ludlam would have featured in few predicted World Cup squads and Eddie Jones is not overstating the flanker’s emergence when he says he came from nowhere.

It is entirely understandable, then, that Ludlam needed reassurance when he was added to the England squad’s WhatsApp group on Monday morning – the first indication of good news for those who had made the cut. “I said to one of the other lads: ‘Are you sure? Is this the squad?’ The next thing you know, you’ve got lads shaking your hand saying, ‘Congratulations’. [It has been a] bizarre couple of weeks.”

Ludlam has something immediately likeable about him and the video of him singing the national anthem on Sunday has gone viral – as has one of his father doing likewise in the crowd. Underneath the surface, however, there is a steely determination, demonstrated when Chris Boyd arrived at Northampton last summer. Injuries and back-row competition had hindered Ludlam’s development since the 2015 Junior World Cup, where he was named England’s player of the tournament on their run to the final – so much so that he was considering his options and contemplating a move abroad.

“This time last year was almost one last shot at it for me, trying to fight for another club contract,” says Ludlam, who as a junior was cut from the Saints academy before forcing his way back in. “Chris Boyd said to me that he could give me an opportunity but he didn’t really see how I fitted into his plans. It’s not easy as a young player. I picked up injuries at the wrong time, which doesn’t help. It’s hard to get into a rhythm and break through.





Ludlam was called up by England after a series of strong performances for Northampton



Ludlam was called up by England after a series of strong performances for Northampton. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

“I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to do other than play rugby. It crossed my mind: what am I going to do post-rugby? I thought that part of last year was trying to play my way into a good highlights reel to get a gig at probably not such a big club or potentially abroad.”

Ultimately it was his critics who gave Ludlam just the motivation he needed. “You see a lot of stuff … ‘Where’s Ludlam? What’s he doing? He hasn’t played since Junior World Cup’. Boydy said the same when he came in. He’d seen me at [the Junior World Cup], seen me perform there. It drives you on. You use it as energy and motivation to really kick on. Reading that sort of stuff made me want to prove people wrong and I’m just happy I got the opportunity.”

Ludlam benefited in part from James Haskell’s injury problems and strung together a series of strong performances in Northampton’s run to the Premiership play-offs. He has played at openside flanker more often than not but Jones sees him primarily as a No 6, which is where he made an impressive debut against Wales – starting with a thumping tackle on Ross Moriarty and continuing in the same vein.

“He is uncomplicated, he just wants to be a good rugby player, he wants to work hard,” said Jones. “To me he’s one of those old-fashioned sixes that just does the job. He carries hard, tackles hard, cleans out hard – ‘What do you want me to do, coach, I’ll do it. What does the team need?’ He’s one of those boys. They’re such valuable players.”

Ludlam may have been a surprise inclusion but in many ways he exemplifies England’s World Cup squad as one of the young thrusters Jones has turned to and as one of a number of players with multicultural heritage. Ludlam’s father, Arron, has Palestinian and Egyptian roots, his mother, Dorinda, a Guyanese background, and he is evidently proud of his ancestry, equally so of representing England – as his singing would suggest.

“Seeing my dad in the crowd gave me goosebumps, gave that extra little bit of something,” he says. “To see him belting it out made me want to sing it that little bit louder.”

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