Ludlam: It's time for Saints to shed the potential tag

For some time now, Saints have been spoken about as a team with a bright future.

Monday, 23rd August 2021, 7:00 am
Lewis Ludlam (picture: Roberto Payne/Northampton Saints)

Players have progressed from the Academy to the first-team setup and promised to deliver some time in the years to come.

But for Lewis Ludlam, talk of his team's potential has become tiresome.

Put simply, the co-captain says the time is now for the black, green and gold.

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Ludlam said: "We always have felt the time is now and we're very tired of reading that this team has got a lot of potential, this team is capable of doing good things - we want to be there and do it now.

"You've seen with the Harlequins situation (Quins won the Premiership last season) and the young squad they've got that anything is possible.

"That top four is really important, anything can happen and this group of boys is capable of being more than just a top-four team.

"We're not happy with being a team that could be really good or could have been really good.

"This season is about showing what we're really about and showing where we can take ourselves.

"It starts in pre-season and pushing the limits every day and we want to continue that through the season.

"We're not happy with where we are as a squad and we're doing everything in our power to make this a really memorable season for us."

Ludlam continually expresses his pride at being co-captain at Saints.

But that is not enough to sate his appetite.

"It's a dream come true for me but we're still not happy with where we are as a team," he added.

"The focus is very much on getting better each week and we want to push on.

"We can't be happy with treading water and standing still - we want to win trophies, win games and make the Gardens a real tough place to come to.

"It's an honour and a privilege but I'm not happy just being captain - I want to bring something to this team and I want this group of boys to be remembered."

Ludlam rarely fails to leave onlookers with memories of his performance when they exit games as his tenacious style so often catches the eye.

And ominously it seems like the England flanker may take his game to a new level this season after a welcome break from action this summer.

"It's been really good for me, it's been nice to switch off," said the 25-year-old.

"It's the longest time I've had off for a few years so it's been nice to recharge the batteries.

"By week two or three I was champing at the bit to get into it so it's good to be back in now."

So how did Ludlam spend his break?

"I've been out and about, seeing people I haven't seen for a couple of years due to bubbles and Covid restrictions," he explained.

"I've spent a bit of time in Hvar with some of the boys from the club (Alex Mitchell and Fraser Dingwall), some of the Leicester boys and Joe Marchant as well.

"It's been a nice, productive, busy off-season."

When it was jokingly suggested Tigers players are supposed to be enemies not friends, Ludlam laughed and said: "I've just been trying to convert them as much as possible.

"Some future deals have been going down."

Keeping Covid-free has never been far from the thoughts of everyone at Saints, despite the fact they were away from the club for a few weeks.

Ludlam explained: "We've had to be a little bit stricter in pre-season because we don't want to miss out on time where we can be getting fitter.

"A week out of training can be quite costly during pre-season so we are quite hot on things still.

"The only change is that we can socialise outside the club a bit more so we can go out for dinners, lunches, drinks after we've worked hard.

"That bit has been a welcome relief but in terms of restrictions at the club we're still hot on the testing and stuff."

Saints' most recent game was at Bath on the final day of the Gallagher Premiership season back on June 12.

But the clock is now ticking down as they prepare for pre-season games against Bedford Blues and Ospreys, and the Premiership opener against Gloucester on September 18.

"It does feel a long time ago since we last played," Ludlam said.

"For me, this pre-season is massive because I haven't had a proper pre-season in the past two or three years.

"I had the World Cup stuff, which was pretty intense and a lot of it was game-focused.

"Then there was the Covid stuff and going into a reduced pre-season there as well.

"It's been a bit strange in terms of getting my body right and prepped to go ahead into a season so it's something I'm working hard with.

"It has been tough but I definitely needed a full block of pre-season to get my body right."

Saints finished fifth last season, 14 points adrift of fourth-placed Harlequins, who went on to claim a stunning Premiership title triumph.

And Ludlam feels Quins have shown what can be achieved when an entire squad places a large amount of responsibility on their own shoulders.

"From speaking to those boys, a lot of their situation has been player-led after the change of coaches (head of rugby Paul Gustard left Quins in January).

"That is a real tell-tale about where rugby and professional sport is going in terms of those teams that are player-led and have a group of boys who really take responsbility for what they're doing can really go places.

"Speaking to those Quins boys, what they said was that they made the plan, they were running training, they were setting standards and as a result of that there was a buy-in.

"It's something that all professional teams can learn from.

"The fact we were running them close at one point and there were a few games we should have got results from, it could have been the difference really.

"It's an exciting thought that once you make that top four spot, literally anything can happen."

Ludlam will be joined in the Saints back row this season by a close friend.

Karl Wilkins has returned to Northampton after spending seven years playing in France.

And the flanker is someone who Ludlam knows extremely well.

"The back row situation is awesome, especially with Tom Wood deciding to put pen to paper in the end," Ludlam said.

"It's a really exciting bunch of boys and it's going to help to drive competition, squad rotation.

"We're in a really good spot with the back row and it's awesome to have my old mate here.

"It's weird seeing him in Saints kit again and socialising with the boys I've been socialising with for the past six or seven years.

"We've known each other since we were eight or nine years old playing football against each other so to be in the same situation and environment now after growing up less than a mile away from each other is awesome.

"It's something I'm excited about for us to be able to pull the jersey on together at some point."

Ludlam and Wilkins could line up alongside each other when Saints welcome what they hope will be a full house of fans for the season opener against Gloucester.

And Ludlam said: "A lot of these boys, their motivation comes from playing in front of our fans.

"The buzz you get from playing in front of a home crowd, the buzz you get from it, it can never be underestimated ever again.

"It's going to be a huge boost for this team and I love playing in front of our fans.

"The sooner we get that back, the better.

"I'm sure it will be the first game of the season and I'm absolutely buzzing for it."