Swing Low, Sweet Chariot: England forward Lewis Ludlam defends song

July 01, 2020

England back row Lewis Ludlam says he does not believe 'Swing Low Sweet Chariot' should be banned, because it is not sung in "the context of race and slavery anymore".

The song, which has its origins in the slave trade, has come under scrutiny in recent weeks amid the increased prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the Rugby Football Union say they are reviewing its historical context.

England star Maro Itoje - who like Ludlam is of a Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background - told the BBC this week that the song makes him feel "uncomfortable" and that while he opposes a ban, greater education is required.

"I disagree personally," Northampton Saints forward Ludlam told Sky Sports News. "Swing Low is something that I grew up listening to and singing along to when I went to watch England play when I was younger.

"I think the meaning of things changes and when you sing Swing Low Sweet Chariot, it's not in the context of race and slavery any more.

"I don't think those 50-odd thousand people at Twickenham when they're singing it even think about the racial connotations behind it, so it's not something I agree with banning. It's something I enjoy singing and I think the context and the meaning of the song has changed for me."

'I need to be world-class at something'

Ludlam, whose father has Palestinian and Egyptian roots, and mother a Guyanese background, made his England debut last August before becoming a surprise selection in Eddie Jones's World Cup squad.

The 24-year-old made four appearances as England reached the final in Japan, before going on to feature twice in this year's Six Nations before the tournament was cut short by the coronavirus pandemic.

Ludlam says he already has an eye on the 2023 World Cup in France, and is focusing on developing a "world-class" element of his game to ensure he remains in Jones' plans.

"The focus is always the next World Cup but I want to be playing as much international rugby as possible," Ludlam said.

"The pandemic is a little bit of a spanner in the works because I came off the back of a Six Nations where I probably wasn't where I wanted to be at in terms of my game on the pitch.

"I wanted to come back off the Six Nations and get a good run of games and impress myself and put a lot of things I've been working on into practice.

"It's about working on every part of my game - especially in the back row, you've got to be capable of doing a lot of things and I want to be even better at all those areas.

"You look at someone like Sam Underhill, who's world-class at the breakdown, and Tom Curry as well. Then someone like Billy Vunipola who's world-class at carrying, so for me trying to figure out what I can really put my energy into and become world-class at is something that I'm still searching for and still looking at."

Saints extension an 'easy decision'

Ludlam was one of 19 players to agree to a contract extension with Northampton on Tuesday, and said it was an easy decision despite the club confirming 12-month salary cuts for players and staff.

England second-row Courtney Lawes and Wales fly-half Dan Biggar were among those who agreed new deals, along with Ludlam and fellow England prospect George Furbank.

"Saints was always the place I wanted to stay," Ludlam said. "I find it hard to see myself at another Premiership club in all honesty.

"It's where I've come through. It's the club I've grown up supporting, so in those terms it was an easy decision and I think it was made easier by speaking to a lot of the other lads who are so keen to build on what we've built over the last couple of seasons.

"A lot of the lads that have signed on, we've been playing together since under-15s academy days, so hopefully to go on and win something with that group of lads in the next couple of years - potentially this year as well - is something that's exciting and something that I'm really looking forward to."

The Saints were fourth when the Premiership was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic, and will be looking to move up the table when the season restarts, with August 15 the date currently being target for resumption.

Northampton also remain in the European Cup, and will face Premiership leaders Exeter when the competition resumes in September.

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