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English Premiership 2008/09 / Features
Guinness Premiership
A change will do you good
Huw Baines
August 25, 2009
Gloucester fly-half Ryan Lamb rallies his troops, Gloucester v Ospreys, Anglo-Welsh Cup semi-final, Ricoh Arena, Coventry, March 28, 2009
Fly-half Ryan Lamb is hoping for a fresh start after trading his hometown club Gloucester for London Irish © Getty Images
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The dawn of the Guinness Premiership season brings with it the chance to right wrongs and turn over a new leaf.

London Irish, last season's beaten finalists, have their sights firmly set on a place at the summit of English rugby and are all set to begin their assault against Saracens at the London Double Header on September 5.

At Twickenham, fly-half Ryan Lamb will hope to make an immediate impact for the Exiles after severing ties with his long-time employers Gloucester at the end of last season.

He's the new boy at a club whose philosophy seems to suit his off-the-cuff style perfectly, and he's immediately settled in alongside his former England Saxons halfback partner Paul Hodgson under the tutelage of veteran England back and Irish attack coach Mike Catt.

A mercurial talent who lost his way as Gloucester imploded last season, Lamb is also quickly adapting to life in the capital. His quiet West Country burr reveals his past allegiances but he's feeling reinvigorated after swapping Cherry and White for Irish green.

"It was a big move," he said. "Everything I knew about life was in Gloucester. Coming away to a bigger city and a new environment is a breath of fresh air. It's matured me as a player and as a person.

"The coaching staff and the players have been very upbeat with me. It's been good to get a change of environment and get out there playing rugby again."

Regularly described as a confidence player, Lamb has prodigious skill with ball in hand but has struggled to stamp his authority on games when under pressure. Unfairly tarred with Gloucester's 'bottler' reputation, he has plenty of critics to answer this season.

In the past his slight frame has constantly been referenced alongside a perceived defensive frailty, something that he hopes to have addressed with his first full pre-season since turning pro. Armed with the Exiles' explosive backline, he has also refused to abandon his attacking instincts.

"You can't really change your game. You look across the backline and I'm very happy to be part of it, and I'll hopefully get people like [Seilala] Mapusua and [Sailosi] Tagicakibau running off me," he said. "I've beefed up a little bit and had a full pre-season which I haven't had since I've been a professional. I've always had a few weeks cut off with tours; I feel the best I've ever felt. I've got no excuses, and I'm raring to go."

Left out of both the England Elite Player Squad (EPS) and the Saxons squad after a poor end to last season, 23-year-old Lamb also hopes that his chances of a full England cap aren't over. With Jonny Wilkinson back on the international scene for the first time since 2008 his job has gotten harder, but his new found confidence is again apparent as he talks of his competitors.

"Hopefully I can sneak my way back in to the England setup," he said. "I want to play well regularly, which I didn't do last year. I've got no gripes about not being in the squad. Stephen Myler, Shane Geraghty, Danny Cipriani and Jonny Wilkinson need no introductions. It's always going to be hard but if I can get a good season under my belt and make sure that I've played to my best ability then I can get back in to it."

The steadying hand of Catt, who started the 10-9 loss to Leicester in the Premiership final last season, will be vital in developing a mature edge to Lamb's game. With 76 England caps and two World Cup-finals in his locker, Catt is one man who has plenty to impart in terms of handling pressure.

"Ryan has struggled in the past couple of years from a game management point of view," he said. "He has got an amazing skill set.

"He has adapted to the way we play very quickly, and he was very impressive against Munster (in a 31-23 pre-season loss at Musgrave Park) from where we want him to be, controlling the game. We'll have to wait to get down to the nitty gritty of playing in the Premiership and we'll find out a little but more about him."

The No.9 to Lamb's No.10 will likely be the three times-capped Hodgson, a spiky ball of energy fresh from captaining the Exiles squad that walked away from the Middlesex Sevens with top prize.

The two together have the potential to become one of the most explosive halfback pairings in the Premiership, a point that hasn't escaped Hodgson. He has high hopes for the maturing Lamb and plenty of pride in the emerging toughness apparent in the still youthful Exiles squad.

"I think you'll really see a guy come out of his shell as far as playing is concerned, and maybe get a bit more consistency to his game as well," he said of Lamb. "The first time I played with Lamby was for the Saxons a couple of years ago, and (London Irish head coach) Toby Booth was out there as well. Lamby showed Toby then what he was capable of, I think it's been quite well publicised about how this environment might suit him and already he's building up a good relationship with Catty.

"We haven't got the biggest squad, but everyone's competitive. In every position you've got two or three potential first starters. With so much competitive rugby coming, everyone will be needed. There's so much confidence throughout the team, we've got players who've shown potential for a long time that are now very consistent and are becoming ruthless competitors."

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