Lewis Ludlam: Northampton career will feel unfulfilled if we do not win Premiership

Lewis Ludlam - Northampton career will feel unfulfilled if we do not win Premiership
Lewis Ludlam (left) made 128 appearances for the club across eight seasons and was appointed club captain in 2021 - Getty Images/David Rogers

It is fast approaching the 10-year anniversary of Northampton Saints’ last and only Premiership title that was sealed in the most dramatic of circumstances through Alex Waller’s try in the last minute of extra time.

Sitting in the Twickenham stands that day – in the second tier behind the posts where Waller scored his try to be exact - was 18-year-old Lewis Ludlam who made a vow to himself that he would one day taste that level of glory. “At that point I knew I was going to Saints and I wanted to be a professional rugby player,” Ludlam said. “When I saw that, I thought that’s what I wanted for myself. That day was when I knew that’s where I wanted to be.”

Now the clock is ticking on Ludlam to make good on his promise having signed to join Toulon this summer. Courtney Lawes and a host of other senior players will also be departing creating a ‘last dance’ type feel to league leaders Premiership’s run-in. “Every year we’ve been desperate to win things,” Ludlam said. “We’ve shown that in the way we’ve played the game. Now, more than ever, this is it. This is the last chance. It makes you that much more desperate, that much hungrier. Time is a great motivator. The fact is it’s a last opportunity. Courtney has already won one and I’m desperate to win one myself. I think we’re enjoying the pressure of that position and thriving off it.”

In the past five years, Northampton have become the nearly men of English rugby with three play-off defeats. The darlings of the regular season with their dazzling rugby who promptly get beaten up the moment they reach the semi-finals. Combative flanker Ludlam’s eyes narrow into the shape of daggers when it is put to him that some people consider Northampton a soft touch.

Lewis Ludlam (L) - Lewis Ludlam: Northampton career will feel unfulfilled if we do not win Premiership
Lewis Ludlam (left) is highly prized for his versatility and combativeness - Getty Images/Dennis Goodwin

“Yeah we’re aware of that,” Ludlam said. “It’s been a driver for us, definitely. I think we’ve been accused of having a soft underbelly, and that’s something that’s upsetting. We’ve got a chance to show people wrong, really.”

Already Northampton have shown they have more steel to go with their style. Under new defence coach Lee Radford, they have conceded the second fewest tries behind Leicester Tigers. Nevertheless, Ludlam recognises the only measuring stick that ever counts is silverware. Hence the remainder of this season has the potential to define his entire career as a Northampton player.

“I think in the last few years we’ve definitely felt unfulfilled,” Ludlam said. “We always measure our success in seasons with trophies. That’s all that matters. At the moment our trophy cabinet isn’t looking as full as we’d have liked it to be. Trophies have always been our gauge of success. What I will take an enormous amount of pride from is the journey. It’s been unbelievable from where I’ve been from and the friendships and relationships I’ve made have meant the world. That’s what I’ll look back on with positivity but the only way to see it as a success and something to look back on with no regrets is to win something.”

Ludlam readily admits leaving Northampton will be emotional. By heading to France, he also closes the door on his England career having earned 25 caps. Few players have sung the national anthem with more gusto but at 28 Ludlam felt now was the right time to leave.

Lewis Ludlam (R) - Lewis Ludlam: Northampton career will feel unfulfilled if we do not win Premiership
Ludlam (right) won 25 caps for England and featured at both the 2019 and 2023 World Cups - Getty Images/Steve Bardens

“Next World Cup I’ll be 32, almost 33,” Ludlam said. “That might have been a bit of a step too far. While my stock was relatively high after the last World Cup and I’ve spent 10 brilliant years with this club, I felt if there was ever a time to go and experience something different then now is that time. That was the big appeal and living somewhere new as well. Money was an aspect to it but not the be all and end all. I’m very fortunate I’m in a position where I can leave my childhood club on my own terms.

“The club has given me everything, really. I don’t know what I’d be doing if I wasn’t playing rugby. I’ve got Chris Boyd to thank as well. He gave someone who was maybe a little bit washed up and not really performing an opportunity. I owe this club and the people here everything. It’s about doing them proud and giving them back as much as possible.”

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