Alex Waller admitted the cauldron of noise created by Northampton Saints supporters inside cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens on Friday evening produced one of the best atmospheres he has ever experienced in the ground.
A bumper crowd of just under 15,000 witnessed a nail-biting 32-31 victory for the men in Black, Green and Gold over Harlequins – with Chris Boyd’s side keeping their top-four destiny in their own hands with their fifth straight bonus-point win in the Gallagher Premiership.
The veteran is one of only a handful of players still at the Club who were involved in 2014’s iconic Premiership semi-final win over Leicester Tigers on home soil, and just as on that fateful day, Waller insisted the crowd had a massive part to play on Friday as Northampton claimed a dramatic win in the dying embers of the match.
“The atmosphere in the stadium on Friday was right up there in terms of what I’ve experienced playing at the Gardens,” he said. “The noise coming out of the stands at times definitely rivalled that of the semi-final in 2014.
“It was fantastic; it really gives the lads a lift and a boost of energy. Some of the younger guys had never experienced anything like that playing here, so they were all buzzing in the changing room afterwards.
“The Franklin’s Gardens faithful are always on form, but on Friday night they really took it up a notch.”Alex Waller
“Of course, we’d have preferred the final result to have been signed, sealed and delivered a little bit earlier than it was – but the lads showed great guts and determination to come through.”
As the hosts lost a number of players to injuries throughout the contest, Boyd had to unload Northampton’s bench earlier than planned, resulting in some fatigue in the second half as Quins overturned the deficit to lead going into the final quarter of the match – but James Grayson responded for Saints with two late penalties to snatch a win by the narrowest of margins.
Waller added: “We had to come through some adversity with a few lads going down, hopefully nothing too serious, which resulted in me playing tighthead for the first time in 300-odd games for the Club.
“Having uncontested scrums definitely helped us given the injuries – now I know why the backs have so much energy! No-one wanted to go uncontested, least of all the front rowers as that’s our bread and butter.
“But all of our front row are pretty mobile and agile around the park, so we were able to cope with that sort of game. Manny [Iyogun] played all 80 minutes at loosehead and it was a great shift from him.
“Jimmy showed some incredible courage to put his hand up and then kick that goal from almost 50 metres out, and we’re really chuffed with how we finished the game. It was good game management, calling for the scrums to wind down the clock.
“You’ve got to celebrate your wins and we have some great momentum now in the Premiership. We’d have like to have had the game won earlier, but to win trophies sometimes you have to win ugly as well – all the best sides do that.
“We’re on form and we’re playing well, hopefully that continues. We’ve got a bit of a break now so we can rest the bodies and head into that Saracens match really fresh.”
Waller also gave a nod to Saints skipper Lewis Ludlam after the match, still in his first campaign as solo Club Captain (having shared the role with Waller the season beforehand), who led from the front again with 18 carries, four defenders beaten, six tackles, one try and one assist.
“Lewis is really growing into the captaincy role; he’s a fantastic leader,” said Waller. “I like to joke that I taught him everything he knows, but I think this is only the beginning for him and he’s going to get better and better.
“He’s a pleasure to work with and play for. You can see every game he’s learning and improving, growing into his role. Long may it continue.”