Ryan Lamb Interview: 'I think the people who run the game and who are in the top jobs have a lot to answer for'

Ryan Lamb saw his former club Worcester Warriors go into administration earlier this season

It was as though the pause button had been pressed on all of the problems currently blighting rugby union.

Arriving at Sale Sharks' AJ Bell Stadium last Sunday, swathes of people were revelling in the atmosphere of a Premiership semi-final. The hustle and bustle around the ground was more reminiscent of a music festival than a rugby match, and the party outside continued inside the stadium as Sale and Leicester Tigers put on a show to remind us all why we can be engrossed by the English game.

But no sooner had the final trails of smoke from the blue pyrotechnics faded into the North West skies, the doom and gloom around the top-flight reappeared with more desperate news, this time surrounding London Irish.

On Monday, the Rugby Football Union confirmed the Exiles will be suspended from the Premiership next season if their proposed takeover isn't completed by the end of the month or if the current owners are unable to demonstrate they can support the club in the 2023-24 campaign.

Reports have outlined that an American consortium is interested in buying the club but the delayed nature of the takeover has led to the RFU taking action as they look to avoid expelling a third Premiership club from the league in the last eight months.

For Ryan Lamb, he can only watch on with despair. After witnessing one of his former teams - Worcester Warriors - go into administration earlier this season, he hopes another in London Irish can find their way out of trouble.

"It is hugely concerning," Lamb tells TRU. "It is people's livelihoods. I think I kind of played in the era where it was, and we didn't realise, but we thought it was the most financially stable it could be at the time. I have been retired three years now and all you hear is bad news.

"I think rugby has had the worst press over the last two, three years. All you have heard is injuries, concussions, clubs going under, players and staff not being paid, and ambiguity around the rules. Why would you want to play the game?

"I feel so sorry for the staff and players because they are the people who are mixed up in it. It is devasting because I know a lot of people at the club [London Irish] still. There will be a lot of lives affected whatever the outcome is. I was gutted for Worcester. I think the way that was handled was absolutely horrendous. There is obviously more to come to light with London Irish so we will just see how that goes and hope for a positive outcome but we need a clear up of everything from rules to finances.

"I think the people who run the game and who are in the top jobs have a lot to answer for."

Back in November at a parliamentary inquiry into the demise of Worcester as well as Wasps, RFU Chief Executive Bill Sweeney and Premiership Rugby's Simon Massie-Taylor were blamed for "failure on an epic scale" and Lamb - who also played for Gloucester, Northampton Saints and Leicester - feels more needs to be done across the board if rugby is to grow and become more sustainable.

The 36-year-old is currently head coach of National One side Plymouth Albion, a club that knows only too well how important sustainability can be.

Seven years ago, Albion survived the threat of liquidation before navigating their way through the Covid-19 pandemic, but due to "sound administrative structures" combined with clarity and strong leadership, the third-tier club are heading in the right direction once again following a fifth-placed finish in 2022-23.

While Lamb and Plymouth deserve to be pleased with how they have turned their ship around, the Albion boss hopes he will see elements of their own blueprint translated into the wider game.

"I think how things have been managed since Covid really is a shambles," Lamb says. "From a Nat1 point of view, we didn't even know who was going down until the final weeks of this season. How can you plan for that? I don't know why there isn't a clear set of rules where everyone knows what they are targeting. I played the game for 17 years and I don't even know what the rules are going to be next year.

"Look at the Championship. The new season will start in three months and we don't even know if Wasps are in it. Clubs can't prepare and plan and that is why everyone wants a clear picture.

"It's exactly the same as the tackle height [in the community game]. The ambiguity surrounding it was, and is, crazy. I have got a month and a half to prepare almost a radically different defensive system at Plymouth so it is just difficult. It is just so frustrating. People who are managing the game, it is just cowboy-ish to be honest.

"You want to sustain things for a longer period of time so you can plan over two, three, four, five years so it just makes it a lot more difficult when you don't have that.

"I don't really know the answer to how we turn this around because I think there are so many things that need to be tightened up. It is worrying for the game and I want to just start seeing some positive PR come out because rugby has taken a battering."

Having represented five different Premiership clubs, Lamb also experienced playing for La Rochelle and adds "you simply can't compare the two" when asked about both the English and French game.

"There is some unbelievable talent playing in the Premiership at the moment," continues Lamb. "However, you can now see the exodus going over to France. I have played over there and it is a completely different animal - commercially, attendances, the way they promote the sport.

"Did you see when La Rochelle turned up for their [Heineken Champions Cup] semi-final the other day? The fans were outside going insane! The atmosphere there is phenomenal but that is because of the way French rugby is run and people are invested in it. It makes it an attractive place to go and play.

"What has happened with Worcester and coming out of London Irish, how can you promote the sport to possible investors? I think our game needs a massive revamp from everywhere otherwise I think we are going to be talking about this situation for the next few years."

After the demise of Wasps, both Jack and Tom Willis opted to move to France to continue their rugby careers while Lamb "wouldn't blame others" for following suit, especially with two Top 14 clubs involved in both European finals this weekend. 

On Friday night, Toulon take on Glasgow Warriors in the Challenge Cup (a trophy Lamb won as a player during his time with Gloucester) while his former club La Rochelle look to retain their Heineken Champions Cup crown against Leinster.

It will be a repeat of last year's final and Lamb is looking forward to seeing if his old side can become Kings of Europe again on Saturday.

"We've talked a lot about the difficulties around the game, but this match will be a massive credit to the game," he says. "I think the way both teams play, I think it is going to be a phenomenal and physical game. 

"[Ronan O'Gara] has had a massive impact at La Rochelle, hasn't he? He was a very clever tactician when he played. I played against him quite a few times which I was lucky enough to do! He has transferred that tactical side of his game to coaching and I think he explains himself really well.

"Saying that, I think Leinster have probably got the most creative coaching team if you look at their strike plays and their attack. They are very straight, they have got options either side, out the back and then the passes are so tight and quick.

"If the attack turns their hips in, just one player, it is so much harder to recover for the outside defenders around that fold. Leinster probably do that better than anyone else in Europe so I think La Rochelle will have to be very physical to make sure they take that gainline off them immediately. They have got jacklers all across the field so if anyone can do it, La Rochelle can.

"It is going to be a battle on the field but I am sure it is definitely going to be a tactical battle off the field. I'm excited for it."

Widely regarded as the most competitive rugby union league in the world...it can only be the Gallagher Premiership.

The division is becoming more and more exciting as each year passes by so who will be lifting silverware at Twickenham in May?

At Talking Rugby Union, we aim to provide match reports and news together with our specially commissioned features and interviews.