World Cup-bound Lewis Ludlam was considering his options outside of rugby a year ago as he reflected on a career that was in danger of fading away.
Ludlam is among the surprise inclusions in England’s squad for Japan 2019 after an accomplished Test debut against Wales at Twickenham on Sunday propelled him into the final 31 ahead of Brad Shields.
A June camp was his first recognition by Eddie Jones yet after expecting to be jettisoned each time a new training group was announced, the openside flanker is instead heading to the Far East as one of five back row options.
At the last World Cup, he was even picking several of his new England team-mates in his fantasy team for the tournament.
But after starring at the World Rugby Under-20 Championship in 2015 when he was named his team’s most valuable player, his progress stalled back at his club Northampton due to a combination of injury and the competition from seasoned internationals.
Every journey starts somewhere ?
Here is your 31-man England squad for Japan ?
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) August 12, 2019
“It has been a bizarre seven weeks. This time last year was like almost one last shot at it for me, trying to fight for another Saints contract,” Ludlam said.
“There were a lot of back rows and (director of rugby) Chris Boyd said to me when he came in that he could give me an opportunity but he didn’t really see where I fitted into his plans.
“I didn’t even know if I would get a contract renewal. I had one year left. I hadn’t played more than a handful of games since my the junior World Cup.
13 years ago I promised my primary school teacher if I ever played for England id get her tickets to my first game to thank her for her support. Can’t believe we actually managed to track her down! pic.twitter.com/Wi7060esr1
— Lewis Wesley Ludlam (@LewisLudlam) August 13, 2019
“You see a lot of stuff on social media – ‘Where’s Ludlam? What’s he doing? Hasn’t played since the junior World Cup.’ Chris Boyd said the same when he came in.
“It crossed my mind – what am I going to do post-rugby? But I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to do other than play rugby.
“Part of last year was about trying to play my way into a good highlights reel to get a gig at a smaller club than Northampton or potentially abroad. I was always thinking about other options.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 13, 2019
“But reading the stuff about me on social media made me want to prove people wrong and I’m just happy I got the opportunity to do that.
“Chris has given me that confidence. He told me to play my natural game and enjoy it. For a coach to put that sort of confidence into you as a young player really helped me push on.
“Eddie said exactly the same to me on Sunday – enjoy it, be natural, and the rest will follow.”
Apart from the maturity, resilience and physicality shown against Wales, Ludlam’s first Test appearance was notable for the passion evident when singing the national anthem.
He comes from a family of mixed heritage – dad Arron is of Palestinian and Egyptian origin while mum Dorinda hails from a Guyanese background.
It was glimpsing his father in the crowd at Twickenham and seeing him perform God Save The Queen with such gusto that inspired Ludlam.
Dream come true, surreal day. Hungrier to play for England again more than ever.
Thank you all so much for the messages its been a crazy week and still getting round to replying to everyone. @ Twickenham Stadium https://t.co/fDdwKTbkNH
— Lewis Wesley Ludlam (@LewisLudlam) August 11, 2019
“I’m not naturally very emotional. I like to get myself worked up before a game and play off that emotion, but not ever like that.” the 23-year-old said.
“Seeing my dad in the crowd while singing the anthems gave me goosebumps, gave that extra little bit of something. I wanted to sing it that little bit louder too.”
– Press Association
WATCH: Lewis Ludlam talks to RugbyPass following his selection in the England RWC squad
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