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Investec Champions Cup: It is ‘last-chance saloon’ to win trophy says Lewis Ludlam

  • Northampton’s Lewis Ludlam says it is ‘last-chance saloon’ to win trophy.

Lewis Ludlam says winning a trophy to end his Northampton Saints career would “mean everything”.

Saints are top of the Premiership table and face Bulls in their first Champions Cup quarter-final at Franklin’s Gardens since they lifted the trophy in 2000.

Club captain Ludlam, who came through Saints’ academy, is expected to join French side Toulon this summer after eight years with Northampton.

“It’s last-chance saloon,” the 28-year-old told BBC Sport.

The flanker is among a number of senior players, including club stalwarts Courtney Lawes and Alex Waller, who will be moving on at the end of the campaign.

Ludlam says their departures should provide motivation for Northampton to claim some of the biggest trophies.

“I grew up following football but when I started watching rugby, I saw Northampton competing for the Premiership and that was always the goal,” he added.

“I never thought I would be playing for England but watching Saints win the Premiership, I have been desperate for a slice ever since.

“The fact it is literally the last chance makes it that much more special to be able to send off those two club legends, and a few others who don’t always get the plaudits, in the right way.”

Northampton’s entertaining style has won praise all season but Ludlam says their impressive form domestically and in Europe is down to a greater resolve in defence.

He said: “We are now keeping teams out for longer. Defensively, we have come a long way and we have developed parts of our game to stay in the contest for longer.

“Over the last four or five years we have been a team who play really well with the ball but when the conditions don’t allow you to fall back on those fine skill executions, it can be a tough job.

“Now we have developed our scrum and forward pack to give ourselves a platform to play when things aren’t going well.”

Head coach Sam Vesty’s direction has also been pivotal, according to Ludlam

“Sam’s brilliance in coaching is telling us to play what is in front of us,” he said.

“There is always a way to move the ball into space. If that means to slightly dial up the risk factor, whether with ball in hand or by kicking, he is coaching us to make those decisions.

“When you give players like ours the confidence to make decisions on the pitch it is enjoyable and the boys back themselves to execute.

“Sometimes, you can play in teams when you’re told to kick the ball away and it can be data driven.

“There is no right and wrong way and probably last season we got the balance a little bit wrong and didn’t have the defence to back up some of those errors.

“Now we can take a bit more risk because we have a good defence and we are getting the balance right.”

‘Playing for your country is the pinnacle’
Ludlam expects South African side Bulls to impose themselves physically, but says Saints will be up to the challenge.

“Bulls are an unbelievably physical side,” the flanker said. “I might be a bit biased but I think the game will be won or lost in the forwards.

“We need to match [their] physicality and go beyond or it will be a struggle to get a grip on the game.”

The last of Ludlam’s 25 England caps came in the bronze-medal match win over Argentina at the 2023 World Cup before he was overlooked for selection in this year’s Six Nations.

An expected move to Toulon in France would make him unavailable to return to the Test fold as, under existing rules, England head coach Steve Borthwick is unable to select players based with clubs abroad.

Ludlam, however, says he still has ambitions to represent his country.

“Playing for your country is the pinnacle,” he said. “Over the last four years I have had a massive amount of opportunities in the England set-up.

“I never want to close that door but to direct my energy into a completely different challenge was appealing for me.

“In sport you can’t be too comfortable for too long. Now it’s about trying something new and trying to progress as a player on a different stage.”

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