‘I want to be more than a quiz-question answer’: Lewis Ludlow joined a very rare club captaining England on his debut… but that’s not enough for him
- Lewis Ludlow joined a very elite club when he captained England on his debut
- But now the Gloucester man doesn’t want to stop there – it’s not enough for him
- Sportsmail sat down with Ludlow to talk debuts and what the future holds
Here’s a quiz question.
What links the following? Fred Stokes, 1871; Fred Alderson, 1892; Joe Mycock, 1947; Nigel Melville 1984; Lewis Ludlow, 2021.
‘England captains on their debut,’ answers Ludlow himself, talking to Sportsmail.
‘I thought it would’ve happened more. Still to this day it amazes me that it did!’
Lewis Ludlow joined a very elite and exclusive club when he captained England on his debut
Ludlow captained England on his debut against the USA (left) and then against Canada (right)
‘I don’t think it sunk in until I sat on my little tractor and thought “this actually happened”. I looked at my cap, had my England number and I still have the text that Nigel Melville send me saying “welcome to the very exclusive club”.
‘To be one of two people still alive to have done it – it’s the sort of thing you read about and think “imagine being that person”.
‘Good quiz question!’
Ludlow was England player 1,425, one of just 131 to captain his country and 101 to have done it more than once – in victories over USA and Canada with the Lions away this summer.
When picked Eddie Jones told him he was to be skipper for the ‘A’ game against Scotland. With that cancelled, the players went home to their families.
Ludlow sat having breakfast in a café near his smallholding home in Saul, close to Stroud, with fiancée Bethany and 18-month-old daughter Autumn, when his phone rang.
‘It flashed up “Eddie Jones”, Ludlow explains.
‘“Oh my god, what have I done wrong?” was my first thought. He said “we’re going to make you captain, if you train well you’ll play. You’re not in though, so don’t rest up for the week.”
‘My fiancée looked at me and said “are you ok?”
‘I couldn’t speak. It took my daughter to mess around with her food to snap me out of it – “stop it, Autumn!” “Oh you can speak!”
‘I explained to Bethany, then rang my dad, Paul. I’m very close to him so it was unbelievable to tell him.
“Are you sure?” he said. “It’s not Lewis Ludlam?!”’
It was Ludlow, the Gloucester flanker, not his nearly-namesake from Northampton.
Soon Ludlow was whisked to the Lensbury Club in Teddington the day before the rest, met with Jones, psychologist Andrea Furst and leadership guru Will Carling – all the while questioning what on earth was happening.
‘I’m in my second camp by this point – very new. It wasn’t normal,’ he says, still pinching himself now.
It was singing the National Anthem at Twickenham that nearly had him blubbing.
‘Your family sit dead opposite, near the Royal Box; I looked up, started singing and noticed my daughter,’ Ludlow explains.
‘I thought “right I’m going to have to look down here, or I’m going to go”. It was really special, something I’ll never forget.’
Suddenly leading a young, vibrant England team, but also in charge of those like Sam Underhill and Ellis Genge with more than 20 caps, Ludlow leant on his friends.
When picked, Eddie Jones told him he was to be skipper for the ‘A’ game against Scotland but the game was cancelled
They decided the camp would be different. No more endless meetings discussing how buzz-words make you feel, no more fruitless, forced discussions about ‘values’ – instead hand-propelled dragon-boating on the Thames and moral dilemmas to build bonds.
Prop Beno Obano came up with an either-or that had them talking for four hours.
‘If you’re on a train and the track splits off into two, there’s five people on the fork you’re on and one on the other,’ explains Ludlow.
‘You can pull the lever and end up killing one person, or leave it and it’ll kill five. Do you want to let it happen, and five people die, or feel solely responsible for one death that saves five lives?
‘The amount of difference… “I’m killing five” “woah, murderer!” “Nah I’m going for one” “if you pull the lever with someone else’s hand, does that count!?” It sparked conversations straight away.’
Genge was Ludlow’s greatest support. The pair, who captain against each other for the first time on Friday night as Gloucester host Leicester, first crossed paths at 16.
Born near Ampthill, growing up out the back of the woods near the Championship club’s ground, Ludlow worked the scoreboard watching his father, grandfather and uncle play there.
He only made the Bedfordshire county side once, as someone pulled out late, made the East Midlands under-16s but did not play, and so a career in rugby was never written in the stars.
But three walk-up trials at Hartpury College, and he soon joined the likes of future Lion Jonny Hill, Ireland’s Billy Burns, Wales’ Ross Moriarty and Genge – their skipper.
‘We used to have weird wrestles a lot – more in our down-time!’ says Ludlow of his teenage days with the Leicester prop.
‘He won’t mind me saying that when he was younger he was a loose-cannon, but got that captaincy role and has gone from strength to strength. He’s a hell of a player and you want him on your team.
‘He’s one of the best motivational speakers before a game. I used to see his jokey side but there’s a definite change in direction I’ve seen in him.’
Where Genge was a rough diamond waiting to be polished and thrive at Test level, Ludlow was convinced he would never make it.
Ludlow leant on his friends in the England camp when he was given the captaincy by Jones
Watching his colleagues rise up the ranks he missed the England under-20s due to a bad knee injury suffered on his Gloucester debut. His grandfather, Tony from Tredegar, made him qualify for Wales – but that was never an option.
‘I played for Welsh Exiles at U18s,’ Ludlow explains.
‘People rang me up and said “you’re at this in the depth chart in Wales, but if you move here you’ll jump higher”. I was never going to play in Wales, I’m English. I never class myself as Welsh.
‘My grandad is and says “you should have been a red-top!” “yeah alright grandad”’
But he is not just English, but a captain too, now 27 and back in the senior fold for a camp next week.
He says he owes it all to Gloucester, a club he has now been at for 10 years, and has allowed his daughter to ride their four horses on the farm with the family’s three dogs, chickens, pigs and –occasionally – Dexter Cows.
‘She’s only happy outside, around our stables,’ he says.
‘She always walks outside going “tractor!”
‘I was never a PlayStation kid – my dad is a mechanic, so I’ve pictures of me covered in grease as a kid – I was there every day – I loved it. I have a couple of Land Rovers now to keep me busy.’
Hard work triumphing over all is a theme with Ludlow – a trait he wants Gloucester to match, fighting for every scrap. Jones thinks he can become the best lineout back-rower in the game.
The man himself is determined to be more than just quiz-question answer.
‘Jonny May always said to me “you’ve got the ability to be a Mark Wilson, coming into it late and thriving”,’ he concludes.
The England flanker says he owes it all to Gloucester, a club he has now been at for 10 years
‘Have I? Is it going to happen? Do I do what the coach likes? I never thought this would happen.
‘The fact that it happened twice, at home, at Twickenham, in front of my family, we won twice, was everything I wanted.
‘People outside of rugby say “you’ve done it, you can relax now!” but I’m like “no, no”.
‘I’ve had the dangling of the carrot and now for me it’s “imagine that with a full Twickenham”.’
Ludlow might not have to imagine for long.
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