Lewis Ludlam on there being no wrong questions in England camp as Calcutta Cup approaches

Lewis Ludlam played in all three Tests as England won their series against Australia in the summer
©Northampton Saints

As England’s preparations for their Guinness Six Nations opener against Scotland in the Calcutta Cup get into full swing, England flanker Lewis Ludlam says there is “no wrong question” to ask the new England coaching group.

Just several days under the new management of head coach, Steve Borthwick, and defence coach, Kevin Sinfield, England’s preparation for the Six Nations has to be short, sharp and sweet.

Having dismissed Eddie Jones from his role as head coach last December, there was always an inherent risk to the Rugby Football Union’s decision. 

Nine games stand between the side ranked – in the world and the Rugby World Cup in France, Borthwick’s appointment coming a year ahead of England’s schedule, the 43-year-old having plenty on his plate to address.

England were flat in the autumn, their losses to Argentina and South Africa the epitome of their struggles, being booed off the field the over-riding memory of the Jones’s final weeks in charge of the team.

In his opening statements, Borthwick, and later Sinfield, emphasised that much of what the pair would focus on was culture, hoping to recreate the formula which helped propel Leicester Tigers to a Gallagher Premiership title just two years after finishing second.

Players got a brief introduction to the pair in the new year at separate fitness camps in Liverpool and Gloucester, but it has only been this week that the 36 players at Pennyhill Park in Surrey have got to grips with their new coaches on the training pitch.

“I feel like we’re given the opportunity to really learn,” Ludlam said. “We’re given the space to try things, to express ourselves, and the space to ask questions as well.

“I think a big part of taking on messages really quickly is that we’re comfortable to ask questions, because there’s no wrong question.

“So it’s been brilliant, the have that emotional connection to the England side, to have that level and detail and the level of comfort to go and ask questions as learn as well, it’s been brilliant.”

When it comes to what ahs directly changed in the England environment, and 27-year-old Ludlam is not entirely sure. He joked on Thursday lunchtime that much of what Borthwick may have changed is probably too subtle for him to pick out.

Something which is clear is that there is a different atmosphere throughout the group, a new direction and influences on the group seemingly having a positive impact from the off.

“We’re just getting to grips with things that have changed,” Ludlam said. “Obviously the set-up has change quite a bit and the way that the week is set up. It feels like there is a new excitement around the team, and a slight change in focus.

“[Borthwick] wants the team to be ready to fight for each other, to work hard and that’s been pretty evident from day one, which is really positive.”

What are the key messages that the group have been given by Borthwick so far?

“The main thing is that we’re going to have to hit the ground running and pick up things quickly because we have two weeks until Scotland and are going to have to be in the best physical and mental condition possible to go out and make the fans excited about watching England,” Ludlam said.

“It’s been detailed and, as players, we need to be sponges in terms of taking on that information.”

While we will not know until the team steps out onto the turf at Twickenham Stadium to take on Scotland in their Six Nations opener, it should be assumed that England will attempt to use their pack to grind down opponents, with a focus on the set piece and then launch Nick Evans’s new attack.

The back-row will be a major part of anything that England aim to accomplish, with Ludlam among a host of players looking to get their name on the team sheet this Six Nations. 

Northampton Saints captain, the Ipswich-born forward has not represented his country since last summer’s tour of Australia and has not played a home Test match since July 2021.

Starting against Scotland last year at BT Murrayfield in England’s 20-17 loss to their hosts, he sustained a broken rib in that game, wiping him out of the rest of the tournament, and would have potentially retained his spot in the Autumn Nations Series if it were not for a hip issue.

In part, Ludlam’s aim of regaining a starting spot for England have received a boost following a calf injury to his clubmate, Courtney Lawes. Competing with so many high calibre players for a starting spot, the 27-year-old says that he and the back-row are hoping to provide some much needed stability to help England succeed this Spring.

“For England, and any team, the breakdown is so integral around the laws and around speed to breakdown,” he said. “You have to be hot and on your money to be able to keep the ball.

“Any team that wants to play any sort of rugby needs to be clean so you can play on the front foot. Whether you are kicking the ball or playing with it, the breakdown is non-negotiable.

“The back-row is usually in the thick of it, usually at the heart of the breakdown and making sure our ball is quick and their ball is slow, is a massive part of the job and always will be. 

“I guess there is an added focus on that because of the speed of the breakdown in Test rugby, so that is the focus for our back-row.

“We have done a lot of work in making sure our fine skills around winning the ball at the breakdown is covered off.”