We sat down with Lewis Ludlam ahead of Northampton Saints’ semi-final in the Gallagher Premiership this weekend, with the 27-year-old Club captain looking ahead to the all-important clash with Saracens on Saturday...
Q: How much are you looking forward to Saturday’s Gallagher Premiership semi-final against Saracens?
LL: I’m absolutely buzzing for it. I woke up on Monday morning probably a little bit too excited coming in, but we’ve had a week’s really good training. The thing now is just about settling ourselves down, making sure we get everything covered off for the week and build ourselves back up for the weekend. The boys are looking forward to the challenge of it, they’re emotionally ready and I’m sure come the end of the week we’ll be tactically ready as well.
Q: What have the last few weeks been like since Saints’ place in the play-offs was confirmed?
LL: Obviously, it’s been a little bit bitty with the schedule and a bit hard with no proper competitive fixtures. But I think we’ve benefitted really well from having a proper block where we can put a load of energy into our training, our conditioning and making sure our bodies and our game is in the right place to put ourselves in the best position to go and win play-offs. It’s been good, it’s been positive and I think the boys are just ready to go now.
Q: How much confidence do you feel you’ve picked up from the final two regular-season games?
LL: I feel that we’re probably peaking at the right time. Obviously, the loss at London Irish was a really disappointing one for us – that was when everything was in our hands. But we’re starting to understand what it means to put together a full performance and I think we definitely saw that up at Newcastle, where we stayed in it for 80 minutes and kept our foot on their throat. For us, it’s just about backing what we’re doing, understanding what we’re good at and making sure we do that until the cows come home.
Q: Do you take any lessons from last year’s semi-final at Leicester Tigers?
LL: I think you always take in lessons from past experiences. We understand that semi-finals don’t come around all that often and we just want to enjoy the situation of it and enjoy the challenge of it. Just like last year, we’re underdogs but we maybe shocked ourselves a little bit in how close we did come and how well we performed, so when we go out there at the weekend and we find we’re competing and performing, we need to make sure we don’t shy away from that challenge and just keep going and keep enjoying it as well.
Q: What does it take to beat a team like Saracens?
LL: They’re extremely consistent in what they’re doing, they’re relentless in their game plan and they’re meticulous in how they prepare. They’re very good at doing the same thing over and over again, so if you switch off for one moment, you get punished. It’s about everyone staying in the game at all times and making sure we’re properly in it so when they do decide to pull the trigger, we’re ready.
Q: Are Saracens a different prospect to how they used to be, given that they’ve opened their game up in recent years?
LL: You can see their counter-attacking threats have been really impressive this season and they’ve probably turned the risk dial up. They take more risks these days and it is important you stay alive to those moments and stay connected because in the moments you switch off, they’re not a team who are just going to kick the ball back for no reason. If the opportunity is there, they’re going to try to take it. They’re a brilliant side and they’ve developed their game from what Sarries used to be.
Q: Will it help relax the players knowing people outside the Club are billing Saints as underdogs?
LL: It’s a nice position to be in; to be able to take the pressure off ourselves and enjoy the situation, enjoy being the underdogs and enjoy messing up the party a little bit. It’s quite a nice situation to be in, although we’re under no illusions, they’re a fantastic side, it’s going to be a tough challenge, but why not us? Tell me why we don’t have the opportunity to win that game if we get our game right.
Q: ‘Why not us’ was used before previous Saints play-off campaigns, are you trying to foster the same kind of spirit ahead of the game?
LL: Play-offs are different, anything can happen in play-offs. I think we saw what happened all those years ago when that side won the Premiership. I was sitting in the stands as a supporter, not being involved with the Club at that point. I think the boys here are desperate just for a slice of history, just for a slice of those memories. Those games where Tom Wood scores in the corner, we want a piece of that history and the boys now are desperate to get their hands on something. We understand the challenge that awaits us and the boys are excited about making their own history now.
Q: You’ve got an experienced head back alongside you in Courtney Lawes, how good has it been to have him back involved at the end of what has been a frustrating season for him?
LL: It’s been awesome just to have a player that’s played in hundreds of big games, whether that’s internationals, whether that’s in semi-finals or finals. To have someone there that’s been there and done it and understands what it takes to win these games and the energy you need and be able to address a team and make sure we’re all in the right head space to go and compete in those high-pressure games is priceless.