Flood injured, Cipriani in exile – so who holds power at No 10?

The forgotten fly-half Ryan Lamb tells Chris Hewett about his England ambitions

For every rugby follower who wondered whether Ryan Lamb would fulfil his rich potential at Gloucester – and they were right to wonder, because he fell a long way short – there were at least half a dozen who questioned whether he could conceivably do so anywhere else.

Here was a youngster who drank in Cherry and White lore with his mother's milk; a brilliant local product living the local dream; a cradle-to-grave Kingsholmite to the tips of his toes. When he moved to London Irish at the start of last season, the Cotswold cognoscenti shook their heads. "How will he survive in London," they asked, "when he regards Cheltenham as foreign territory?"

His continuing absence from the representative scene seems, on the face of it, to bear them out. Three years ago, he was routinely mentioned alongside Toby Flood , Danny Cipriani and Shane Geraghty as an international outside-half in the making, and with good reason: he was, and remains, an exquisite footballer, blessed with a skill-set common to many a top-class No 10 from the production line on the other side of the Welsh border. Yet while he is far from alone in slipping off the radar – Geraghty spends so much time on the Northampton bench, he will soon need surgery on his splinters; Cipriani loathes the England set-up to such a degree he is heading for Australia on the basis that it is just about far enough away – it is fair to say that he is further from the thoughts of Martin Johnson and his fellow selectors than any of his peers.

But contrary to the assumptions of the "told-you-so" brigade, he is making a go of it up there in the smoke. "When you spend the first 23 years of your life in a place, surrounded by family and friends, it's a big decision to leave it all behind," Lamb admits. "But I needed to leave, to get away, to live and play my rugby somewhere new. As luck would have it, I chose wisely. The Thames may not be the Severn – people don't surf down the Thames – and there's not much manure about the place, but I feel very settled and comfortable where I am. I have a house just down the road from the training ground, the people are great and I have all the support and encouragement I need." Then he pauses for a second before adding: "It's home."

Who would have expected to hear such a thing? It is hard to imagine a more Gloucesterish sort than the outside-half, whose father turned out for Matson, for many years the most powerful of the city's junior clubs and considered at the time to be mad, bad and dangerous to play against. When Lamb is reminded of the occasion when an opposition player was hit across the shoulder blades by an elderly lady wielding an umbrella – the poor soul was running down the wing at the time – he laughs loud and long before saying: "That was probably my nan." You can take the boy out of Gloucester... Yet the way he tells it, London Irish have taken complete possession of him, heart and soul. "I always thought I'd be among friends here because I knew some of the players – Topsy Ojo, Delon Armitage, Nick Kennedy – from my time with England Saxons and I'd spent three weeks on tour sharing a room with Paul Hodgson. But the main attraction was working with a really open-minded coaching team. I hoped Toby Booth and Mike Catt would make a difference, and they have.

"I spend a lot of time with Mike. Last season, when he was still playing, it was an education to work alongside him. There were times when I felt like asking him if there was even the slightest chance that I might do my own thing, but as he was right in his decision-making far more often than I was, I kept my mouth shut. Now he's a full-time coach, it's all about what we do on the training field. He's incredibly informative. Tolerant too. If he gets fed up with me asking stupid questions, he doesn't show it."

Lamb's wholly positive relationship with Catt – and with Booth, the head coach who brought him to the Exiles – inevitably raises the issue of his more fractious relationship with Dean Ryan at Gloucester. During his time in charge at Kingsholm, the "Big Bad Wolf" was openly critical of Lamb's failures of game management and dropped him for a number of important matches, decisions which led directly to the player's departure. Lamb is reluctant to reopen the wound: "I don't look back on it at all; it's onwards and upwards as far as I'm concerned," he says. But he does worry about his reputation as a master midfield puppeteer whose strings become knotted the moment he comes under pressure.

"Once you have a label stuck on you, it's hard to shake it off," he acknowledges. "Is it still there? Yes, if I'm honest. But I have a clearer understanding of my weaknesses now and that puts me in a better position to work on them. I'll always want to play what you might call a 'flair game' – I don't want to lose that aspect of my rugby because when all is said and done, it's the biggest part of me – but as I develop as a player, I appreciate more and more that there's a time and place for the more conservative approach.

"Rugby's a ruthless business, especially when you play in an environment like the Premiership, where the threat of relegation is a fact of life and Heineken Cup qualification is seen as a minimum requirement. You have to accept there's a line to tread. The good thing about playing rugby here is that I have the freedom to try stuff as it occurs to me. Yes, I'll get the old shepherd's crook treatment if it goes wrong three or four times. That's only reasonable. But I'd like to think I can try something twice without finding myself dumped from the team. It's possible to play ambitiously, no matter what the stakes. The All Blacks do it, so why can't the rest of us?"

Those who despair at some of the troll-like performances turned in by the national team will wholeheartedly agree with Lamb's sentiments, and are likely to be further encouraged by his desire to reacquaint himself with the broader England set-up. "I haven't been involved at all for a couple of years now and if I don't make a proper case for myself by performing well at club level, there won't be a way back," he says. "That means making sure that my second season here is better than my first. We started well last time, but injuries kicked in and we started making silly mistakes, myself included. After Christmas, we couldn't buy a win. Just scraping into the Heineken Cup was a bit of a crash, especially when you consider we'd been in the Premiership final 12 months previously.

"But I still want to be involved with England and I still think I can get there. Toby was the first-choice at 10 last season and he's done well for himself: of those of us who were always talked about as a group of young, up-and-coming outside-halves, I think he was always the most pragmatic. He also had a massive work ethic, probably the result of playing so much rugby at Newcastle alongside Jonny Wilkinson. Yet I don't think the position has been nailed down. If any player puts together a run of really strong displays, anything can happen. Look at the way Ben Youngs has broken into the team at scrum-half. He's a perfect example of what can be achieved."

Of course, both Youngs and Flood (now likely to be miss the next six weeks through injury) have the advantage of playing at Leicester, whose inimitable brand of winning rugby ensures they appear in more high-profile, high-pressure matches than any other English team. It is London Irish's declared ambition to position themselves alongside the Midlanders, and there have been times in recent campaigns when they have hinted at closing the gap. In reality, though, there is still an entire ocean's worth of clear blue water between the two.

"Let's see what happens over the next few months," Lamb says. "People look at our signings for this season, see there are only three of them plus some academy lads and write us off. What they don't realise is that by having so many injured players back fit, it's as if we have a whole new side. I think we'll surprise a few, definitely." Starting at Bath today? "That," he says, eyes ablaze with the old West Country tribalism, "would be nice."

News
peopleJonathan Ross has got a left-field suggestion to replace Clarkson
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Pandas may be more sociable than previously thought
news
Arts and Entertainment
The teaser trailer has provoked more questions than answers
filmBut what is Bond's 'secret' that Moneypenny is talking about?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Lewis Hamilton secured his second straight pole of the season
f1Vettel beats Rosberg into third after thunderstorm delays qualifying
Arts and Entertainment
Written protest: Julia Donaldson, author of The Gruffalo, has sent an open letter to the Culture Secretary
books
Sport
footballDoes Hodgson's England team have an identity yet?
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss