» Retiring Lamb reflects on rugby career
FROM bursting on the scene as a teenager at Gloucester to his swan song in the west coast of France, Ryan Lamb is able to look back with a wide smile on a rugby career that has given him more experiences than he ever imagined possible.
It is one that has brought highs and lows with trophies and promotion, agonising Premiership play-off defeats and being on the cusp of representing England with that full cap eluding him.
Lamb has gone from one challenge to the next, playing for Gloucester, London Irish, Northampton, Leicester and Worcester before finishing his career with French Top 14 club La Rochelle and now is looking forward to the next chapter after deciding it was the right time to hang up the boots.
Why he decided to retire
Having only recently turned 33, it was not long ago that Lamb was still producing some eye-catching performances in the Champions Cup for La Rochelle.
He found his game time increasingly limited in his second season in France though and his last game was against Bristol in the European Challenge Cup last December.
At the end of last season he had offers to play in Pro D2 in France, while he could have returned to his Gloucestershire roots by playing for Hartpury but felt his time had come.
“I never wanted to be that guy hanging on and playing until he’s 37 and maybe not playing to the standard that you’re used to and I always wanted to get out of the game in one piece as well,” said Lamb, drinking a coffee at The Roastery Coffee Shop in Quedgeley that he co-owns.
“I think what people don’t realise is the training. Week in, week out it’s not really regulated. There’s a lot of contact and things in the week and a lot of run
ning. Every week after 15 or 16 years it’s a tough job.
“I felt like I wanted to go out on my own terms. I had a really good two years with La Rochelle - I would’ve liked to have played a bit more last season.
“I still feel I’m fit and ready to play but it was great to play in front of that stand and for that club - a completely different feel to the Premiership and I think it’s quite nice to end it on that note.
“I spoke to Pasty (Mark Cornwell) at Hartpury, maybe to play another year and learn off Jonny Goodridge (Hartpury backs coach) to do a bit of coaching and stay in the game.
“I think he’s doing brilliant there and Pasty’s doing brilliant but I didn’t look at other options in England.
“I’ll be honest the training in England is a lot harder than it is in France. I think being in France for two years and coming home, I think I would be dreading a pre-season in England.
“I think over here there’s still more of a military feel around it and I think we’re going to have to start going for specific training for rugby.”
Reflecting on his career
As Lamb looks back on his career, there are so many highlights it is impossible for him to pick out just one.
His Gloucester debut against Brive at the age of 19 and Premiership debut against Bristol immediately spring to mind, as well as the European Challenge Cup final win over London Irish in that same year, which he started.
He ran out at Twickenham in two Premiership finals with Gloucester and Northampton and kicked the decisive conversion at the death when Worcester won an epic Championship promotion play-off against Bristol in 2014, describing it as “the maddest 10 minutes of rugby I’ve ever played in my life.”
Lamb also looks back fondly on winning silver at the Commonwealth Youth Games with England alongside the likes of Danny Care and Danny Cipriani, Grand Slam success with the Under-19s and winning the Churchill Cup with the Saxons.
“I’ve achieved everything I wanted to achieve,” said Lamb.
“A lot of people say unfulfilled potential but what do you class as a good career?
“I’ve been playing 15 years at the best clubs in Europe - Leicester, Irish were a top four club when I was there, Gloucester were a top four club when I was there, Northampton played a grand final.
“I’m happy with what I’ve done. In terms of club rugby, I would’ve liked to have won a Guinness Premiership, I lost a couple of grand finals which was unfortunate but they’re experiences and I think they make you grow as a person.
“The experience is amazing looking back, coming out of school and running out in a Guinness Premiership final at just turned 19. It was crazy times.
“I enjoyed my career, it was such a good 15 years, I met some great people from all over the world, travelled a lot of places and finished it off in La Rochelle.
“I’ve never played rugby for money, I always played because I enjoyed it.
“I signed for La Rochelle not on big money. People think you do in France but I didn’t, I went there for the experience.
“I played in so many big games. That’s what I’ll miss the most, the big atmosphere in the week with the media
round, Saturday driving to the game, seeing the crowds, getting off the bus, that nervous energy. That’s what I enjoyed the most.”
Being in the England setup
Lamb looked like a player with the world at his feet as he lit up Kingsholm as part of a young and vibrant Gloucester back line at the start of his career, helping them win the Challenge Cup in 2006 and twice finish top of the Premiership.
He played five times for England Saxons having also represented his country at Under-19 and U21 level and was often involved in the senior squad during his early years.
At the time, World Cup winning captain Martin Johnson was head coach with Lancaster in charge of the Saxons and Lamb pulls no punches when he speaks about how he found the experience.
He said: “I hated going away with England, hated it with a passion. It’s like you’re at school, a five-year-old kid again with Martin Johnson and Stuart Lancaster.
“I hated the environment. If I hated something, I couldn’t do it.
“I’m quite a straight talker, I like to put my opinion in the air and be honest and I don’t think that flies too much in rugby anymore.”
“I called Lancaster Steve in front of everyone. I did a few stupid things.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for these people. It was their decision and my decision not to be there as well.”
Lamb says it was not just that he did not fit into the culture but he did not want to and found it “too military.”
He said: “I might not have been good enough. I wasn’t better than Jonny (Wilkinson).
“But I was playing awesome rugby at that point and I’d go there and it was not enjoyable.
“I trained with Victor Vito, former All Blacks captain, and he trains hard but there’s an enjoyment to it, there’s an expression.
“Rugby’s about expression, everyone’s got a certain part of their game they’re better at than anyone else. That’s how you want to play, that’s what got you there in the first place.
“When you feel suppressed or not appreciated or valued, if that’s your decision I respect that but I don’t want to be there.
“At 24-years-old being told to go to bed at half 8. It’s ridiculous.”
Lamb’s time at Gloucester
From playing football as a kid growing up in Tredworth, Lamb was persuaded to take his rugby more seriously by Dave Pointon at St Peter’s High School and trained with Gloucester’s first team squad from the age of 16 when he was at sixth form.
Lamb looks back fondly at the early days of his career at Gloucester playing alongside his teenage pals and club legends he grew up idolising like Phil Vickery, Adam Eustace, Chris Fortey, Cornwell and James Simpson-daniel, who he rates as the best player he played with.
“Playing for your hometown club was always the dream,” he said.
Lamb recalls a 2007 Heineken Cup game against Leinster, saying: “Me, Anthony Allen, Jack Adams, Olly Morgan going down to Lansdowne Road playing against O’driscoll D’arcy, Contepomi, Hickey. I think we scored two first phase tries and it’s such good fun.
“We were allowed to play then and it’s so much more structured now, which it has to be I think because it was such a different game back then.
“It was such an enjoyable environment. That’s unheard of back lines like that.
“We did really well as a squad. Obviously we lost some big games we would like to have won but in terms of experience it was brilliant.”
Lamb was only 20 when he started his first Premiership final at Twickenham for Gloucester against Leicester in 2007 and he scored a try in a 44-16 defeat, before they were beaten 26-25 by the same opponents a year later in a semi-final at Kingsholm.
Another crushing 50-12 final defeat at Twickenham by Cardiff Blues in the EDF Energy Cup final came in 2009 towards the end of a season that saw Lamb regularly criticised by then head coach Dean Ryan before he left to join London Irish.
While many Gloucester fans may wonder what would have happened if Lamb stayed, there is no sense of whatif from the man himself who is adamant even now it was best all-round that he moved on.
“It came to a time at the end where I had to leave,” he said.
“I was getting so much unfair stick in the media from Dean. But he was under pressure as well.
“It was upsetting for me. But I was going to a place I was really excited about in London, I was living with Toby Booth and Mike Catt, really happy.
“I was too comfortable, I was in my comfort zone and every time I came out of my comfort zone I felt I’ve grown.
“Maybe not as a player but as a person more and that’s way more important than any rugby career.”
Lamb referred to himself as Ryan’s “stress ball” during his time at Gloucester and despite their turbulent relationship he went on to play for him again years later at Worcester.
He added: “Dean’s the best coach I’ve ever had in terms of knowing the game and setting up a game plan.
Life after retirement
Lamb is undecided over his next move but he has enjoyed life in France so much that he is strongly considering staying there.
He has done a lot of work to grasp the French language and says his sevenyear-old daughter Leila, who is at school there, has picked it up brilliantly. Along with wife Danielle and two-year-old son Will, Lamb says “they’ve enjoyed every minute out there.”
“There’s lots of obstacles and things but it was a really good two years, a beautiful place and we might stay there a bit longer,” he said.
“I’ve got choices which is quite nice to stop on and makes the transition a bit easier.
“I think you’re not going to get another option to stay in France for a couple of years because you can get work over there and they help you so it would be quite nice to do something like this over there.
“It’s a different way of life out there, a lot more chilled than it is in England where you have two hours for lunch, everything’s much slower and they live life more. I think the English focus on work a lot more and maybe miss a trick because there’s a lot more to life.”
Lamb had already put plans in place to prepare for life after rugby by opening up the coffee shop two years ago with business partner Lee Wozencroft, so another option for him would be to return and concentrate on that.
It has proved more successful than he imagined, so much so that they are lin the process of buying another shop at another location in Gloucestershire.
Lamb was behind the counter serving coffees himself during the early days before he made the move to La Rochelle from Worcester.
“It was quite fun, I quite enjoyed it,” he says with a wide smile.
“When we started it, we wanted to use local businesses and try and move that community forward and make it more like a hub so people know each other and that’s exactly what we’ve achieved.
“We’ve got a lot of regulars that come in. We use the artists that live just down the road, we get our ice cream from Holy Cow just down the road.
“I think that’s what Gloucester gets behind, that local community spirit.”
Lamb has always been keen to get involved in business and thinks it is essential for players to have a plan after their retirement.
He said: “My dad has kept me involved with little businesses he’s set up. I’ve always been interested outside of rugby in business, I always wanted to do something for myself.
“I never really wanted to come home and answer to someone else - I was under Dean Ryan for five years and I don’t want to answer to anyone else!
“The planning that went on before and experience that I gained from my father has put me in good stead for when I finished rugby.
“I think a lot of rugby players get blinded by focusing too much on rugby. It’s such a fine balance because the competition’s so high now but it can finish so quick. And clubs now they get rid of them if they’ve got someone else coming in, it’s brutal.
“You’re not going to have the life you had but you’re going to be an apprentice again and build your life back up.
“I feel like I’ve skipped the first couple of years of apprenticeship when I finished rugby which I’m quite happy with.”
Coaching is also an option Lamb would consider further down the line and he feels he still has a lot to offer the game.
“I would love to get into coaching at a decent level. I like the skill aspect of rugby and I feel like I have a lot to offer and also in attack I’ve got some new ideas I’d love to have a go at doing.
“But in the short term I’m looking to settle down and get my life back on track. I’d never say never.”
Whatever is next for Lamb, he will always feel grateful for the life rugby has given him.
“I owe rugby a lot,” he said. “Looking back, I look more fondly on experiences with the people I’ve met rather than the actual rugby.
“I think what rugby gives you that I would never have got just being a little kid from Tredworth is the experiences I’ve had.”
I’ve never played rugby for money, I always played because I enjoyed it Ryan Lamb
Ryan Lamb kicks a goal for Gloucester against Calvisano in 2008
Ryan Lamb was a product of St Peter’s School
Northampton, Leicester, Worcester and La Rochelle have been some of the stopping-off points in Ryan Lamb’s career