‘England heading in the right direction’ – Ludlam encouraged after England defeat

Lewis Ludlam was one of England's top performers in their Calcutta Cup loss
©Northampton Saints

Following England’s 23-29 loss to Scotland, back-row Lewis Ludlam says that he and his international teammates are “heading in the right direction”.

Playing the full 80 minutes at Twickenham Stadium as Duhan van der Merwe’s mesmeric double handed Scotland the Calcutta Cup for a third week in a row, Ludlam was one of England’s top performers in Steve Borthwick’s first game as head coach.

A reliable set of hands as England at times struggled with unforced errors, the Northampton Saints captain gave a balanced assessment of the game.

“That was a proper Test match, a proper Test match,” Ludlam said. “It was really enjoyable and it’s always an honour to put on the England shirt.

“It’s hard not to be frustrated with the result. A few of our mistakes let them in the game and that’s Test rugby, they punished us for those mistakes.

“The thing that was pleasing is the boys showed a lot of fight and showed a lot of what we’ve been trying to put in place over the last 14 days on the training pitch.

“It feels like we’re heading in the right direction and there’s clarity about how we want to play.”

It is that preparation time which has been the subject of much concern. Introducing Borthwick as head coach in December, the 43-year-old was only able to have two weeks preparation with his England squad before their first game.

This meant introducing the ideologies of a new coaching group, Borthwick joined by Kevin Sinfield and Nick Evans to try and turn the fortunes of the national side.

“It’s difficult, but we can’t feel sorry for ourselves,” Ludlam said of the preparation time. “We have an understanding of how each other play.

“Now it is about having that understanding over how England play and then benefitting from the repetition of working that gameplan and understanding it.

“It definitely feels like we’re heading in the right direction. It’s been such an enjoyable two weeks.

“It feels fresh with Steve, Kev and the other coaches as well, so it’s exciting. We’re disappointed because we wanted to get the win, but we’re so excited about where this team is going as well.”

A quick look at the stats book and there wasn’t all that much separating the two sides. If anything, England had the better of the encounter, with better territory and possession across the fixture.

Even in defence, things were not all bad. They made less than half of Scotland’s tackles, missed less tackles and even conceded fewer turnovers. 

What stood out in defence was a hint of disorganisation, something which may well be eradicated after more time on the training field with Sinfield in the weeks to come.

“With the attack they have, Scotland attack really well,” Ludlam said. “You see them doing that against all teams in World Rugby.

“Van der Merwe was a massive threat for them, and he had a fantastic game. He really got them on to the front foot and we didn’t deal with that well enough.

“However, our understanding of how we want to defend has come on a long way as well. There’s no panic about that performance, but it’s important that we build on that because we have Italy coming and we need to be better.”

It has been made clear in recent weeks of an immense culture shift among the England group. Consistently, Borthwick has spoken about the need for his players to fight for one another and the clarity he hoped to give them in each aspect of their role.

In defeat, Ludlam was enthusiastic about the new path that this England team is on. At their lowest ebb at the conclusion of the Autumn Nations Series, the 27-year-old continuing the narrative that has been created since Borthwick’s instalment.

“There’s a clarity about how we do things,” Ludlam said. “I feel like the group is closer. There’s now a really deep, emotional connection over what it’s like to play for England.

“The level of respect we have for these coaches goes to show out there. The boys want to fight for each other and the coaches.

“It’s encouraging and while disappointing that we didn’t get the win, we’re heading in the right direction.”

Up next is a visit from Italy to Twickenham. Hosting France on Sunday afternoon, under Kieran Crowley, this Italian team is a vastly different prospect to years gone by.

Beating Wales and Australia in 2022, they are a side to be feared for England, although their focus will primarily be on themselves and not their opponents.

Clearly encouraged by their exploits, Ludlam believes that it will not be a dour mood when the squad gets back together on Monday to begin their preparation.

“A real excitement,” he said. “We want to get after it straight away, hit the ground running. This team hasn’t been together long playing this system. We want to attack it on Monday and there’s a real excitement.”