'I was going through that RWC thinking 'I'm not meant to be here anyway'
Ludlam made his senior debut in August 2019 in a Rugby World Cup warm-up game against Wales, before making the cut for the squad for Japan.
Yet just 12 months previously Ludlam had contemplated throwing in the towel with the sport due to his frustration with limited game time at Northampton.
“That [finance] was the only option I had, well, at least in my mind it was. I was at a point where I had played six games in four or five years at the club and it didn’t look like it was going to change,” Ludlam told the RugbyPass Offload podcast. “I think I said to my mum at the time that I was thinking about calling it quits and giving up on the dream and going into finance – which was sponsoring me at the time.
“She [my mum] told me I’d never last in an office and to give it one more year. Around the same time Jim Mallinder left and Doria West as well so I thought maybe with a new coach coming in, I’d give it one more year, which I did, and luckily things worked out. Boydy [Chris Boyd] came in and gave me the opportunity.”
After a breakthrough season with Saints, Ludlam caught the eye of England head coach Eddie Jones and he was drafted into England’s EPS ahead of the Rugby World Cup.
“When I came in I was like ‘Eddie’s seen me on this Saxon’s camp, just getting me in the experience what it’s like – as a World Cup maybe, just to see if I was cut out for it for the future’. Then the cuts started coming in and I played my first game and I was like ‘he’s just capping me in case or whatever’. The whole time I was going through that World Cup stuff I was like ‘I’m not meant to be here anyway’. I’m just going to enjoy it and whatever happens, happens.
“Then before you know it you’re on the plane and when I got there I was still ‘well I’m here to support the team, travelling reserve maybe and just making up the training numbers.’ That [relaxed approach] probably worked in my favour.”
Ludlam – who was 23 at the time – went on to feature four times in Japan, scoring a try against the United States. Following the tournament, Jones had some words of advice for the flanker.
“He said you’ve got a choice, whether you’re going to be a guy who is got in on a World Cup joker card who got 5 or 6 caps or someone who goes on to earn 30 caps.”
Jones is still in contact with Ludlam, even in a year in which he hasn’t had featured for England against a backdrop of incredible back row depth that includes the likes of Sam Underhill, Tom Curry, Sam Simmonds, Alex Dombrandt and clubmate Courtney Lawes.
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“He’s been talking, which is good. He keeps saying to truck away and to make sure I’m improvement-focused and not outcome-focused. I probably got lured into thinking about selection too much at times and when you focus on that you don’t focus on improvement and you don’t play your natural game. I’m under no illusion about how good the England back row is at the moment. It’s unbelievable. ”
Making his England bow when he came so close to walking a different path in life remains a proud moment for the 26-year-old.
“My proudest moment was my debut against Wales, when I was involved more than I expected to be involved after a debut season [at Saints]. To get to that point after knowing that potentially I could have been working in the corporate world, was a really proud moment.”
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