Ryan Lamb, formerly the fly-half of Gloucester, London Irish, Northampton, Leicester and Worcester, is someone I’ve known for a long time and rather happen to like.
He’s a Marmite figure is our Ryan – one of those hugely frustrating players who can be brilliant one minute, creating fabulous off-the-cuff tries with his vision and intuition, while in the very next breath he’ll lob a ridiculous intercept pass that costs his side seven points.
It probably explains why a) his old coach at Gloucester, Dean Ryan, became totally exasperated by his antics, b) why he never got capped by England, and c) why he’s flitted from top-flight club to top-flight club without ever truly managing to achieve his full potential.
Regardless of all that, though, Ryan remains an engaging and enduring personality within the game and over the summer he was the subject of one of the more unlikely transfers when, having failed to make a lasting impact at Worcester, he joined French Top 14 side La Rochelle.
La Rochelle, you may recall, finished top of France’s all-singing, all-dancing Top 14 last season, so the name of Ryan Lamb would be the last you’d imagine they’d bring on board given the cash-rich competition is awash with Test playmakers from Dan Carter to Aaron Cruden.
Yet there Ryan is, at 31, mixing it with the best and preparing – popped rib permitting – to lavish his skills on the Champions Cup when his new side face Harlequins next weekend.
Needless to say, he wishes he had left for France sooner and regrets the fact that he allowed his one-time obsession with playing for England to cloud his judgement.
In fact, his sage advice to younger players now is to take advantage of what travelling offers.
Ryan told me: “I had offers earlier in my career but was hoping to play for England at the time, so it’s difficult for younger players.
“But if you’re in limbo internationally, I’d definitely recommend players in that mid-20s group to broaden their experience.
“It’s a hard decision if you’ve got international ambitions, but I genuinely think it improves you as a player going into different environments and working under different coaches. James Haskell was a prime example of someone who went away to play in France, New Zealand and Japan and improved massively in a short time.
“Nick Abendanon’s another who wasn’t appreciated by England but has come here and really thrived.
“I’m only four months here but it’s already improving me and, at 31, I feel I’ve still got good years ahead because there are different skill-sets involved.
“I was getting very stale in England, but playing against new teams has brought my hunger back.”
There are other positives to sampling life abroad, according to Ryan, who reckons the physical toll on players in France is nowhere near as heavy as in England.
At a time when Premiership players are dropping like flies, he added: “You have injuries in France, but there are a lot more in the Premiership and it’s something that needs addressing.
“There’s a lot of ball-carrying in England, with one pass hit-ups and the ruck being contested a lot harder. The tackles are a little bit more physical and there’s a much heavier load for players, particularly during training.
“There’s not much contact training here, whereas on Tuesdays back home, at pretty much every club I’ve been at, it’s a tough day with a lot of contact and double sessions.
“If I was a prop and I’d just been through a ‘car crash’ the previous weekend, I wouldn’t want to be doing that two or three days later. To have brutal days on Tuesdays, then another big session on a Wednesday, is hard on boys.”
Ryan insists skills are higher in France, too, explaining: “I can’t remember practising an offload drill in my last two or three years in England, but here it’s pretty much the first thing we do each day at training; offload out of contact, support lines, second touches.
“You change your whole mindset within two weeks of being here.
“They do a lot of passing, kicking and decision-making drills in England and it’s all about keeping the ball and putting pressure on teams in their own 22, but over here in France that’s not really talked about – here they just want to play.
“If you make a break people want to make offloads and use their support players to get in behind people, but if it doesn’t come off they don’t come away from that, whereas in England if you make a mistake everything tightens up.
“That most likely explains the injuries.”
Food for thought, or the bitter rantings of a man who failed to make the most of his career?
I’ll let you decide but that’s Ryan Lamb – never less than engaging.
Neale Harvey is an award-winning writer for the weekly Rugby Paper