Lewis Ludlam has spoken for the first time about what it was like to be caught in the eye of a Calcutta Cup storm.
England and Scotland renew hostilities a week tomorrow for the first time since Ludlam lit the fuse on last year’s clash ahead of his Six Nations full debut.
The Northampton flanker predicted ‘war’ and called for his team to be “brutal” and not give the Scots “an inch to breathe”.
Twelve months on the rivalry is as spicy as ever with Scotland captain Stuart Hogg telling team mates: "If we get in their faces it makes it confrontational and a tasty encounter”.
Ludlam does not back away from what he said before a match England had to win, and did, to stop the rot caused by heavy defeats to South Africa in the World Cup final and France in the championship opener.
What he regrets is sapping himself of emotional energy and he now admits: “I played the game emotionally before I actually played the game”.
Ludlam, 25, said: “I learned massively from that week. It was the most difficult preparation I’ve had for a game in my career.
“There was a lot of noise around the fixture and what it meant to both sides. I’m at my best when I take the pressure off and remind myself it is just a game of rugby against 15 other blokes.
“That week I came out of a team meeting with Eddie which was emotionally driven and straight into a press conference, which probably wasn’t the best move.
"I was obviously pumped up in that moment. I wouldn’t say I regret what I said but a lot of emotion came through.
“Every night that week I went to sleep thinking about first collisions and what I was going to do in the contact. Do that and before you know it you’ve played the game in your head.
“You get to the Saturday and realise that all week you haven’t spoken to anyone. You’ve been in your room over-thinking things.
“You haven’t called your girlfriend, she knows you’re stressed. Your dad, he knows you’re stressed. Everyone does. You forget about ‘normal life’ because you’ve built up the game and you’re playing it out in your head.”
Ludlam has not played for England since Murrayfield yet just this week was named in a shadow squad into which Jones will dip in the event of injury or illness.
Saints’ back row star has not had it easy in the intervening period. Dropped from the national team, part of a club side unable to buy a win for much of the year and hit by Covid-19.
But the pandemic has allowed him to reset, find a new perspective on both his rugby and life.
“There’s a lot going on in this world at the minute, a lot of people in a lot worse positions,” he said. “I realise how fortunate we are to do what we do.”
With that in mind Ludlam has thrown his support behind a UK-wide initiative by Gallagher, title partner of Premiership Rugby, to help businesses navigate the challenges and evolving risks brought by coronavirus.
Six businesses and one charity will be partnered with Premiership Rugby clubs to promote their businesses over the next twelve months.
Ludlam said: “A lot of small independent businesses are really struggling at this time. For Gallagher to offer them free business advice to get them back on their feet post Covid is awesome.”
Ludlam too is back on his feet, the smile restored to the face of one of England's brightest talents. A year older and a good deal wiser.
Gallagher’s Tackling Tomorrow Together campaign, utilises its position as title partner of Premiership Rugby, to help support local businesses during the pandemic. Find out more here: ajg.com/tackling-tomorrow-together
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