We sat down with Northampton Saints skipper Lewis Ludlam ahead of a do-or-die weekend for the men in Black, Green and Gold in the Heineken Champions Cup, with a mouth-watering clash against Munster in Limerick on the horizon…
Q: What are your thoughts on last Saturday’s defeat at Exeter Chiefs?
LL: It was a really frustrating performance from us. We never gave ourselves an opportunity to fire a shot. It’s easy to be emotional, but when you don’t stick to a structure to allow yourself to be emotional within what we’re doing, it’s very hard. We let our structure go amiss a little bit and got over-excited, and that was the reason why it ended up how it did at the end. But I think the really pleasing thing is the attitude the boys have come back with this week to go back to basics, and go back to the things that help our game tick, to give ourselves the best opportunity this weekend.
Q: It continued Northampton Saints’ disappointing away record this season, how do you explain it?
LL: We’ve obviously struggled away from home a little bit, which again is a frustrating thing. The focus now, going forward, is enjoying the challenge of going away from home. From everything you see in the media and online this week, no-one backs us to go to Munster and get a result, which is such an exciting position to be in. To go there as underdogs, when all we need to do is put in a performance to give ourselves the best opportunity, it feels like the shackles are off a little bit and we can go down there, express ourselves and give it a good crack.
Q: How are you finding your own form so far this season?
LL: I feel like I’ve been going alright. There are loads of things I need to work on, of course. I know I need to work on those things if I want to be considered for the Six Nations, but I think the focus for me now is on performing for Saints. You can over-think things too much and get drawn into over-thinking selection, so for me my focus is on performing at the weekend and being a better player than I was last week.
Q: Do you feel you are fully back up to speed now after recovering from the abdominal injury you suffered during the autumn?
LL: It probably took me a couple of weeks, naturally, with the injury. It obviously takes a couple of games to get back up to speed, but I’m feeling good. I know I’ve still got a lot more in me to go, but the most important thing is the performance of the team and if the team performs well, then usually the individuals in the team are performing well as well.
Q: What do you take out of last month’s match against Munster at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens?
LL: It’s basically Test match level when you play these teams in the Heineken Champions Cup. You make one mistake and you’re really punished for it, so that’s a difference, but what is exciting about this competition is you get the chance to go away from home to a different country and see where we compare against some of the best teams in the game.
Q: Is the prospect of playing at a ground like Thomond Park something else that excites the players?
LL: Yeah, we’ve got a few foreign players here who haven’t experienced that, so the opportunity to go down there is very exciting. It’s a tough place to go, we’re not going to underestimate the challenge of what it takes to win over there. However, what an opportunity – how exciting is it to go down there, where no-one really backs you, and have a crack against one of the big dogs in Europe? We’re buzzing for the occasion, we’re buzzing for the challenge, and we can’t wait to get to Ireland.
Q: Is it one of those places where you’re playing the crowd as well?
LL: Not necessarily playing the crowd, more enjoying the crowd, and enjoying the challenge of causing an upset down there. It’s definitely part of it, but it’s as much about us bringing things back to our game and how we can perform.
Q: Did the display against Harlequins on New Year’s Day demonstrate that Saints have big performances in them when they’re needed?
LL: In Europe and in the Gallagher Premiership, what’s separating the rest from the pack is consistency. We’ve seen in the Premiership this season that anyone can beat anyone on their day, but the consistent teams are the ones are the ones who are separating themselves from the pack as well. Consistency is something we’ve struggled with – it’s definitely a frustration but I feel like we’re doing all the right things in trying to get ourselves into the position that we did on New Year’s Day. That comes down to an understanding of what we need to do to make our game tick, an opportunity to be emotional and an opportunity to fire a shot as well, so they’re the things we’ve been going after in the last week or so.
Q: What needs to be brought from the Quins game into the performance at Munster if you are to get a result in Limerick?
LL: Basics around our breakdown. We let Exeter dictate the speed of our breakdown and they made it hard for us to find our shape. Our ability to fall into our shape as well is a cycle and that’s something we need to get right. It’s just the basics of rugby and where we need to put our eggs because we’ve got heaps amount of talent, a tremendous amount of spirit and energy, in this team. We just need to give ourselves a framework to allow us to fire some shots.
Q: One area of the game at Exeter that did go well was the set-piece, how important is it that it functions again against Munster?
LL: The front row put in an unbelievable shift. The scrum was probably the best it’s been this season. The really frustrating thing for us is, as a team, we weren’t good enough to capitalise off the back of that. Usually when the scrum is going well and the front five are working hard, it’s easier for us to launch, but we never really got into a rhythm with that either. We’re pleased with how the set-piece has been over the last couple of weeks, but we can’t put all our eggs in that basket and let other parts of our game go amiss.