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England have more than just Willi Heinz to thank New Zealand for this month. The scrum-half made his debut for the country of his grandmother on Sunday, but as he lined up with his new teammates at Twickenham for the national anthem, someone else was catching the eye just next to him.
Two people along the line to Heinz’s left, Lewis Ludlam was belting out God Save The Queen exactly how he likes to play: at full gusto. The video of the Northampton Saints flanker was quickly hailed on Twitter as the perfect display of what it should mean to represent your country, but there was a little bit more to Ludlam’s raw emotion as he prepared to make his international bow.
“I like to get myself worked up before a game and play off that emotion but not like that ever really,” explained Ludlam, who against all odds forced his way into Eddie Jones’s final 31-man squad to book his place on the plane to Japan.
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“Seeing my dad in the crowd while singing the anthems gave me goosebumps, gave me that extra little bit of something.
“I haven’t (seen the video) but I did catch sight of him in the crowd while the anthems were going on so to see him belting it out made me want to sing it that little bit louder too.”
So why do England have New Zealand to thank? Had it not been for another Kiwi, Ludlam could easily have slipped through the net. Northampton director of rugby Chris Boyd arrived at the club last year with plenty of questions in need of answering to begin the club’s renaissance, but one in particular revolved around a talented young player that he had spotted at the 2015 Under-20s Championship – but who he had not seen since.
Ludlam was part of the England team that came unstuck in the final against the Baby Blacks, gaining the award for the team’s player of the tournament in the process that appeared to be just reward for his resilience in bouncing back from early disappointment when he was initially released by the Saints’ academy at age 14, only to work his way back in.
But little did he know that the setbacks were far from over. Injuries and difficulty to adapt to the transition from academy to professional was compounded by the fact that Northampton had James Haskell, Tom Wood, Teimana Harrison and Heinrich Brussow to fit into their back-row – all four of them international players – and on top of that, his contract was nearing its conclusion.
“This time last year was like almost one last shot at it for me, trying to fight for another club contract,” Ludlam recalls. “There was a lot of back-row competition at the club and Chris Boyd said to me when he came in, said that he could give me an op
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