Ryan Lamb claims England like ‘robots’

They call him ‘Harry’ at La Rochelle and Ryan Lamb has JK Rowling to thank for that one, but it’s an improvement on the nicknames he acquired over 11 seasons at five different English clubs.

The 31-year-old has been rejuvenated by his cross-Channel move in the summer, having felt he had ‘stagnated’ in the Premiership. Speaking to Sportsmail at the town’s old port, he explained how he has been welcomed at the ambitious club on France’s Atlantic coast, since an early beach-side lunch when he was caught devouring a huge burger by head coach Patrice Collazo – who just happened to be passing on a jet-ski.

‘The guys here call me Harry – after Harry Potter,’ said Lamb. ‘I wore my glasses once, that’s all! They are just normal glasses but I got hammered by this Harry Potter chat. Some of the guys think Harry is really my name now!

Ryan Lamb has settled in well to life at La Rochelle after making the cross-Channel move

Lamb made the move to France after having felt 'stagnated' in the Aviva Premiership

Lamb made the move to France after having felt ‘stagnated’ in the Aviva Premiership

‘It beats “Asbo” and “Gypsy” though. Haskell gave me the “Asbo” nickname in the England Under 21s. It was when the Government first brought out the Asbos (Anti-Social Behaviour Orders). When I was asleep, the lads put an Asbo tag around my leg. I’d been in a few scrapes, so I couldn’t really argue with it too much!

‘My granddad was a traveller, so that’s where the “Gypsy” nickname came from. That wasn’t Haskell – Flats (David Flatman) was the worst for that. He used to send me pictures of caravans all the time. This is my sixth club, so I’ve obviously got it in my blood to keep moving around!’

He has certainly had a restless career. Lamb grew up in Gloucester and emerged at his home-town club as a fly-half with audacious natural talent, who was soon talked about as a future England No 10. But he left to join London Irish after experiencing some harsh criticism during his inconsistent rookie years – and after two rewarding seasons there he moved on again, amid a player exodus. His rugby route took in Northampton, Leicester – briefly – and Worcester, before reaching La Rochelle.

Test recognition never came, despite a handful of appearances for the England Saxons and call-ups to the senior squad. Looking back, his take on it is that the English game often seeks ‘steady Eddie’ playmakers, while rejecting non-conformists who rock the boat.

‘I was p***ed off about the England situation at one point,’ he said. ‘The way I was playing, I thought I should have had a chance. I was close to being highest points-scorer in the league. I was in the squad and Jonny Wilkinson got injured. Floody was injured and I think Charlie (Hodgson) was too.

The 31-year-old feels that the English game wants 'steady Eddie' playmakers

The 31-year-old feels that the English game wants ‘steady Eddie’ playmakers

The La Rochelle man believes England reject non-conformists who rock the boat

The La Rochelle man believes England reject non-conformists who rock the boat

‘I was thinking, “I might have a shot here”, but Martin Johnson picked Andy Goode from Brive. I just thought, “Oh, f**k off. I don’t f**king care”. At the time I did care, of course, I was angry – but it gets to the point where you just think your face doesn’t fit.

‘England like robots. Some of the stuff that used to happen… Once, they told us to go for a two-hour sleep in the afternoon, then we had to be in our rooms for the night at eight o clock. I just thought, “I’m 24. What is going on here?”. Me and Steff (Armitage) had a chat and decided to go out. We thought we could sneak back in later.

‘We didn’t go out drinking and partying, we just watched a film, had some food and hung out in a bar for a bit. We went back thinking everyone was asleep but when we walked in, lo and behold, Johnson, Wells and Rowntree were waiting for us. We got caught and I didn’t get picked again.’

On Saturday afternoon at The Stoop, Lamb will go head-to-head with the teenager who has taken over a mantle which was once his; as the next great English No 10 prospect. He is aware of the hype and hope already attached to Harlequins’ prodigy, Marcus Smith. His sincere wish is that the endless pressure for results does not weigh down on the gifted tyro who has already trained with England.

Lamb will face Harlequins' Marcus Smith, hailed as the next great English No 10, on Saturday

Lamb will face Harlequins’ Marcus Smith, hailed as the next great English No 10, on Saturday

‘He’s done well and looks talented,’ said Lamb. ‘He’s a better goal-kicker than I was at 18, that’s for sure! He’s got all the skills and I just hope the coaches stick by him when he has a few bad games, which will happen. He will go through periods when he’s going to struggle, because he’s still young – and I just hope people don’t hammer him for his mistakes.’

That was the experience he went through. The ferocity of it stunned him. When Lamb was finding his way as a professional at Gloucester, his youth did not shield him from the slings and arrows of his chosen occupation. ‘In my last year at Gloucester, when I was 20, 21, I was really shocked by how much stick I was getting,’ he said. ‘I just wanted to play rugby, have fun and throw the ball around. As soon as the crowd cheered I thought that was the time to turn it on and entertain, but it soon came back to bite me.’

That sense of being punished for his creative instincts was a recurring theme, with Lamb adding: ‘In my head, it felt like people were always waiting for me to make a mistake, so they could drop me. A lot of clubs and coaches do want a steady No 10. With relegation, I understand that; results matter so much in the league.

‘I do think it takes a coach with real balls to stick to an attacking approach. That’s why Exeter have done so well. They play such good rugby under Rob Baxter and Ali Hepher. I had a chance to sign for Exeter, but I signed for Leicester instead. That is probably my biggest regret.

Lamb believes that Smith is a 'better goal-kicker' than he was at the age of 18

Lamb believes that Smith is a ‘better goal-kicker’ than he was at the age of 18

‘If you lose five games on the bounce, it’s getting like football now, with coaches losing their jobs, so they will wonder if they can stick with someone at 10 who they can’t completely control. That’s why it’s so structured in England – so that when you come out of the structure, they can blame you! It works for England because they keep producing good players, so you can’t knock it too much. But it just wasn’t for me; it’s not how I like to play the game. It’s too boring for me.’

His hope is that now, in the latter stages of his career, he has found his true niche; a place where his instincts are accepted and encouraged. The early signs are good. Last month, in his first start for La Rochelle, Lamb’s long pass in his own 22 ignited a stunning, long-range try just 40 seconds into the Top 14 encounter with mighty Clermont Auvergne.

It’s not all going to plan. As the joint-owner of a café near Gloucester, Lamb has high standards when it comes to coffee and he said: ‘The coffee here is too dark for me. They really like their tiny espressos. If you ask for milk in your coffee, it’s like you’ve asked to sleep with their wife!’

But the rugby is to his taste. Not too bland, not too frothy – and certainly not produced by robots.


*Ryan Lamb knows English rugby and the players involved better than most, having represented five clubs in the Premiership over more than a decade in the professional game. Asked to assess all the team-mates he has had in that time, here are his alternative awards…*

Best Player: ‘The most gifted was probably Sinbad (James Simpson-Daniel). That kid was incredible. For him not to get more than England caps is an absolute travesty. He was such a skilful player. The guy didn’t really train that hard, he ate what he wanted and did what he wanted, but he was so talented.’ Maps (Seilala Mapusua) was another unbelievable player, who could have been good enough for the All Blacks but chose to play for Samoa instead.’

Biggest ego: ‘I’ll have to say Haskell! He’s got a fake ego though. If you say to him, “Hask, are you losing a bit of weight?” he will give it the big one in front of everyone then come up to you 20 minutes later and say, “Really, do you think I’m losing weight?”! He’ll have been thinking about it.’

Worst dresser: ‘I’m not far off. Sinbad’s a terrible dresser, in fairness. I’ll go for Tindall. He’s probably got a stylist now and he still looks like a bag of s**t!’

Biggest eater: ‘Lesley (Vainikolo) – by a long way. We went to this all-you-can-eat ribs place out in Canada and I had a decent stack of ribs. If was one of those places where, if you don’t eat the next one, you have to pay for it. I had a full plate and couldn’t go up a second time. Lesley had eight-and-a-half plates of ribs; he ate the bone marrow and everything. It was unbelievable eating. We all just sat watching – staring at him.’

Hardest tackler: ‘I’ll say Chris Hala’ufia. “Motorway Man”; two hard shoulders. He never actually tackled properly in training because I think he just felt sorry for us skinny white lads. He left us alone. But in games… One time at Irish, Gary Johnson was holding the tackle bag and he ended up running across two fields and over a garden to get away from him! It was hilarious. Courtney Lawes hits pretty hard too. He’s like a 6ft 9in javelin, flying at you!’

Best taste in music: ‘Henry Paul – “DJ Source”, he used to call himself! Andy Hazell and Sailosi Tagicakibau always had good music. I’d say it’s between Sailosi and Hazy – I’ll have to go with Hazy. Losi had a lot of R’n’B but Hazy had a big range of genres.’



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