We sat down with Northampton Saints prop Alex Waller ahead of a big weekend for the loosehead, as he prepares to make his 350th appearance for the Club in this Saturday’s crucial Gallagher Premiership fixture at London Irish…
Q: How much are you looking forward to the match against London Irish on Saturday?
AW: We’re pretty confident in our ability, like every week, and just putting our game on the pitch is crucial. I’m looking forward to the challenge – obviously they’re in a good run of form at the moment and if we’re honest, we haven’t had the best away form but we’re looking forward to putting that right towards this business end of the season.
Q: What sort of game are you expecting against the Exiles?
AW: An exciting one! Not to give too much away but Irish obviously play a pretty exciting brand of rugby, are pretty expansive and we’re looking forward to meeting that challenge head-on.
Q: How much does it help the squad’s confidence that you’re going into the run-in in a far better position in the Gallagher Premiership than this time last year?
AW: You look at the talent we’ve got in the squad and when we get it right we’re pretty handy, so it’s just about being consistent. That’s been the story throughout the season – we can be world-beaters and then we can have a stinker, like we did against Bristol. It’s a challenge for us as a group to be able to put our game on the pitch away from home down at Irish. Obviously, it’s their big St Patrick’s Day party, they’ll be revved up and wanting to entertain a full house down there. I’m looking forward to it, these are the games you play for – it’s more or less knock-out rugby now.
Q: What does it take to handle a big atmosphere like the one you’ll be coming up against at Brentford?
AW: You’ve just got to play your game. This is going way back but [former Saints centre] James Downey always used to say ‘play the game, not the occasion,’ and I think that’s pretty apt here. We’ve just got to do our job, do your role within the squad and myself, personally, do my job. Let Fin [Fin Smith], Luds [Lewis Ludlam] and Dingers [Fraser Dingwall] boss us around the park and then, hopefully, if we can put our game on consistently throughout, we can get the result. Things are going to go wrong, things never go to plan, but it’s how quickly we can get back to our role.
Q: As one of the most experienced players in Saint’ squad, do you give advice to younger players ahead of occasions like this?
AW: Obviously, Luds and Dingers are leading the side well and they’ve got their own things. I don’t necessarily speak in front of the group but I’ll talk to Luds and the lads and pull them aside if I think anything is apt, but Luds has just come back from playing in the Six Nations. He’s got plenty of experience and he was vice-captain for England’s last game out in Ireland, and that speaks volumes for his leadership and how Steve [Borthwick] sees him. I’ll impart some wisdom or experience – let’s call it experience, rather than wisdom – when I can or when I see fit, but generally the lads are fine.
Q: How have the players adapted to the unusual schedule of this game being the only one in the space of about four weeks?
AW: Obviously, we’d have preferred to have been playing in a final last week, but it’s just the way that it’s worked out and to have a little bit of time to recover, refresh a few bodies, sharpen a few edges over these three weeks, especially at this time of the season, is needed. It’s a tough, attritional game and it’s only getting tougher as the seasons go on. It’s not been down time because we’ve still been working but there’s a little less pressure and an ability to take the foot off the gas a bit and not relax but let the body recover a little bit before hopefully flying into this weekend.
Q: What have you made of Trevor Davison coming in ahead of the remaining games of the season?
AW: I’ve played against Trev and he’s a big ox. He’s strong and he’s going to add a certain bit of grit to our pack because he’s a big, tough boy from up north. He’s obviously enjoying the warmer climate down here! It’s a bit different to Newcastle – the town as well as the climate – but we’re looking forward to seeing how he goes at the weekend seeing him get stuck in.
Q: Obviously, the match against London Irish will be your 350th Saints appearance. We’ve asked you something similar before but is this landmark beyond your dreams from when you started out?
AW: My goal when I first got into the Academy was to just get one cap and to have played as many times as I have, and led the side for how many years I did, and be able to win some trophies, play with some world-class players and just see the way the Club has developed over the 15 years I’ve been involved is a dream come true. It’s exceeded my wildest expectations. It’s an honour, although I’m not too focused on that at the moment. I’ll probably reflect on it a little bit after the game when I’m having a beer with some of the lads, and reflect on what we’ve achieved hopefully, then it’s on to the next one, it soon moves on.
Q: Nonetheless, you’re reaching a landmark that few players achieve at any club these days…
AW: It is special and there have been a few lads – I think Danny Care is up there for Quins and obviously Mike Brown played a fair amount of times for Quins as well. There aren’t many who do that for one club in the professional era – obviously you’ve got your Piggies [David Powell] and your Don Whites at Northampton who have played a million times, but in the professional era, especially at Northampton, it’s an honour and a privilege. It’s my hometown club, I grew up watching them and to be able to do it this many times is an honour.
Q: Any specific memories from those 350 games?
AW: There’s too many to mention! Obviously, there are the finals, some of the big wins and also some of the big losses. They stand out and the lads that you play with and the stories that you make off the pitch are probably more prominent and those games sort of roll into one. But I remember certain aspects – obviously the 2013/14 season was pretty special and playing away in some big European games, especially when I was young in my career. They stick in the mind and I’m sure I’ll reflect fondly on it when I finish in a couple of years, and I look back on what I’ve done in my career, but at the moment it’s just so relentless and non-stop it’s hard to reflect so much. Fortunately enough, it’s all on TV and YouTube somewhere so I can look back on it and be that old man showing his son that his dad was cool at some point and he could be able to run, rather than just hobble around the house!
Q: How have you found your own season so far?
AW: I’m enjoying it. I’ll be kidding to say I wasn’t in the twilight of my career now so I’m enjoying every moment, I’m enjoying being with the lads. The squad has changed a lot and I’m feeling very much like me, Tom Cruse and Courts are probably the three oldest guys in the squad. We worked out the other day that when I played my 100th game for Saints, Alfie Petch was 13 and I gave George Patten a lift to work the other day, he told me he was born in 2003 and I nearly crashed the car! I’m enjoying it but I’m just enjoying a bit of no-pressure rugby and I think that’s showing on the pitch. I’m enjoying my form at the moment and I’m looking forward to continuing that.