» Re­tir­ing Lamb re­flects on rugby ca­reer

Gloucestershire Echo - - THURSDAY 04.07 - Robert ILES [email protected]­plc.com

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

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