Lewis Ludlam might have played his last game at this Rugby World Cup already, writes Charlie Talbot-Smith.
But considering he tears into every England cap like it’s his last one – the Northampton flanker certainly hasn’t wasted his opportunity.
Of course, a World Cup is full of twists and turns, and there could yet be a role for the 23-year-old to play out here in the Far East.
But with Sam Underhill, Tom Curry and Mark Wilson all seemingly ahead of him in the pecking order on the flanks, Ludlam might just be the man who misses out from now on.
Yet he unquestionably made his presence felt over England’s two opening wins.
First he climbed off the bench in the second half to help the Red Rose secure a bonus point in their opener against Tonga.
And then, in his first-ever World Cup start, he crossed for a try and led both the carry and tackle counts for England’s much-changed side that put USA to the sword in Kobe.
That prompted coach Eddie Jones, who took something of a punt by including a young flanker that only a year ago had barely broken into the Saints side, to call him one of the most impressive young forwards in the world game.
And leave Ludlam grinning from ear to ear.
“It is a bit surreal really. You don’t get that much time to reflect on it because we are in a little bubble here,” he said.
“But I am going to try and take it all in and enjoy it as much as I can, because World Cups don’t come around all that often.
“To pull the shirt on is special every time. If I can enjoy myself, that is when I am at my best. So I will carry on giving it a good crack.”
And it is Jones’ unique man management of Ludlam that appears to have brought the best out of him.
He added: “It has been a real learning experience, new gameplans with new lads, but I am really enjoying it.
“Eddie just wants me to rip in every time I get the opportunity. Whether that is out on the pitch, or on the training field.
“Out there (against the USA), I wanted to rip in, be myself and enjoy it.
“I think that has been really good for me, it has just take the pressure off me just knowing that I can play my natural game and get stuck in.”
The enjoyment is writ large all over Ludlam’s face.
Of course, that enthusiasm will be tested over the coming weeks if he finds himself just holding tackle bags as England prepare for the big Tests in Pool C against Argentina and France and then what potentially lies ahead in the knockout stages.
But, judging by the way he has stood out in his short time on the world stage already, you can be sure Ludlam will not go quietly.
“There are loads of quality players, so I just have to play my part. Whether that is preparing the team to be the best they can next week or whether that is going and running out as part of that 23,” he added.
Intrigued by @LewisLudlam’s 🤟🏽 celebration earlier today?— Northampton Saints 😇 (@SaintsRugby) September 26, 2019
🐺 The gesture was in support of @CRWolvesrfc, who are doing fantastic things on the 7s circuit in aid of @CR_UK’s cancer research 👏🏼 pic.twitter.com/qoZMOWJ3Qb
"I will work hard, and what will be will be.
“Every time you pull on the jersey it is special. Whether that is preparing the team or putting a performance in, it is about winning the World Cup as a team – it isn’t about individuals. We want to get results.
“We want to play our natural game. With Billy (Vunipola), Tom (Curry), Unders (Underhill), we have different skills – there is a lot of competition but we are a really tight group.”
The team can enjoy a couple of days off in Kobe now, meaning Ludlam will be with his loved ones, who are all in Japan to witness family history.
He added: “It will be nice to chill out for the next couple of days, catch up with family, relax, get the body right.
"I have got everyone out here, and it’s great to have them all here watching me on the world stage.
“Everywhere we have been the atmosphere has been awesome, from Japanese fans to neutral, and with a closed roof all the stadiums have been really loud.
“The atmosphere has been brilliant. I can’t wait for the next one.”
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