Club captain Alex Waller is embracing the preseason feeling down at Franklin’s Gardens at the moment, and the prop believes the enforced break could help some of Northampton Saints’ players in the long run.
The men in Black, Green and Gold returned to training last week, completing conditioning sessions in small socially-distanced groups in accordance with Stage One guidance.
Waller admits the combination of hot, sunny weather and fitness training is making it feel more like preseason than the middle of a Gallagher Premiership campaign at present – with Saints preparing to resume the league season from the targeted date of August 15 onwards.
But the 30-year-old is taking a glass-half-full approach to the lockdown period and believes the rest will have done a number of Northampton’s players the world of good ahead of the run-in to the 2019/20 season.
“It’s quite strange as it does feel exactly like a preseason camp so far – the weather, the time of year, and the time off we’ve had,” he said.
“This is the longest amount of time anyone has had off in their careers really. I was speaking to Owen Franks the other day and he said this is the first preseason he’s done since 2009 because he’s usually been away with the All Blacks.
“He says his body is feeling brilliant for it, so there is a silver lining to this cloud which is that the lads have been able to rest and regenerate. On a personal level, I’m still recovering from my surgery and so I’ve not missed any rugby either.
“Hopefully we can fly back into the season, we’ll all be rested and fresh, and that will play into our hands a bit.”Alex Waller
Saints have been training on the field and in the gym within smaller groups of five to eight players, with every group assigned their own areas of the ground to arrive, complete safety checks and train.
While the process still feels a little unusual to Waller, the loosehead revealed the squad are just enjoying being back together again.
He said: “It’s been a really good couple of weeks so far, getting back to a little more normality and back into the routine of training, and taking the first steps back towards playing rugby again.
“It does feel a bit strange as while we are all working out at the same time, it still does feel a little like you are training alone because we are all split up!
“It’s great though to get back into the team environment and we are doing a session in the gym, followed by a full wipe down and disinfect of the equipment, and then we’re outside onto the pitch to do some running and skills-based fitness work – which has been fun in this weather.
“None of the coaches are in yet; it’s just the S&C guys, so it’s been interesting seeing them trying to teach us how to catch and pass!
“Reece Marshall has definitely come back with the worst lockdown hairdo; he’s bleached the top half of his head so it looks like a bit of a botched Eminem job. It’s an interesting look – almost Dennis Rodman-esque from The Last Dance on Netflix.
“He’s in my group as well so I have to see him every day, as is Paul Hill, whose fiancée cut his hair too and it looks like she did it in the dark – although she’s just had a baby so we’ll let her off.”
Northampton Town’s footballers have already been back in action, securing a spot at Wembley on Monday evening for the League Two play-off final courtesy of a remarkable 3-0 away win over Cheltenham Town, and Waller is throwing his support behind the Cobblers’ promotion push.
“It’s great news that the Cobblers are due to play at Wembley,” Waller added. “It’s huge for the Town as a whole really – hopefully they can go and do a job down in London and come back with a trophy and promotion.
“It’s obviously just a shame that the whole of Northampton can’t go down there and support them, but it’s been a great effort over the whole season and we wish them all the best.”