Ludlam goes from fan to key flanker as Saints return to play-off picture

Five years ago, Lewis Ludlam sat in the Franklin's Gardens stands as Tom Wood scored a try that took Saints to Twickenham.

Lewis Ludlam impressed against Exeter last Saturday
Lewis Ludlam impressed against Exeter last Saturday

And now Ludlam, who was working his way through the Northampton Academy back in May 2014, when Saints beat Leicester Tigers in a sensational Premiership play-off semi-final, will get to have a say of his own.

The 23-year-old flanker has become a key figure under the guidance of boss Chris Boyd this season.

And Ludlam is now ready to do everything he can to propel Saints past regular-season table-toppers Exeter Chiefs in this Saturday's Premiership final-four encounter at Sandy Park.

"This is the reason you play the game: to challenge yourself against the best, the team that finished top of the table and to give yourself a chance at winning trophies," Ludlam said.

"We're really looking forward to the challenge and it's incredible for me to be involved.

"Boydy turned up at the start of the season and said we had to back ourselves - and it's paid off.

"He's given a lot of us young lads opportunities and this weekend is about repaying him and not letting him down."

On his recollections of previous Saints Premiership play-off semi-finals - they played in six in a row between 2010 and 2015 - Ludlam said: "I've seen a fair few.

"I've always been a supporter of the club and it doesn't seem like long ago that I was sat here at the Gardens watching Woody score in the corner against Leicester.

"It's special, we're going down to Exeter and it's a challenge we're really looking forward to.

"We've been playing knockout rugby for the last month or so.

"Every game has been vital for us and it's exciting.

"These are the big games you get up for."

Ludlam has made 26 appearances this season, starting 23 of those.

He had previously played just 16 times for Saints, starting on just seven occasions.

And he has loved the responsibility he has been given by Boyd.

"I've really enjoyed this season," said Ludlam, who made his Saints first-team debut during the 2016/17 campaign.

"I can't thank the coaches enough for giving me the opportunity to play and show what I can do.

"When I've spoken to Boydy about game time and playing, he just said 'the pressure's off, go and play your natural game'.

"All he can ask from us is we give 100 per cent and you can learn from other things.

"For a coach to give you that sort of confidence as a young player is awesome.

"You've got to back yourself. Past seasons I was scared of making mistakes and when you're scared you go within yourself and you don't take the risks you know you can.

"When the pressure's been off this season, I've had my best games. I've relaxed into performances, and playing my natural game has been the big thing for me."

Saints' plethora of talented young players will now get the ultimate chance to shine, against an Exeter side that finished 30 points ahead of Northampton in the regular-season standings.

And Ludlam said: "This is a real experience.

"As young lads we've been in finals in the A League and things but this is another step up and you learn from these.

"These are the ones you remember at the end of your career."