Alex Waller has paid tribute to former Saint Soane Tonga’uiha for helping to shape him into the player he is today.
Waller spent several seasons as the Tongan titan’s deputy at Saints and says he learned a lot during their time together.
Tonga’uiha moved on to Racing Metro this summer, with England loosehead Alex Corbisiero switching from London Irish to fill the void.
But Corbisiero has spent the past few weeks on the sidelines with a knee injury that has required surgery, leaving Waller to step up and show his worth.
And the Kettering-born prop has done that, turning in some superb displays and staking his claim for a regular starting spot when Corbisiero returns.
Waller admits he’s happy with his own form and feels Tonga’uiha’s tuition has stood him in good stead.
“I like to think I’m playing well,” said the 23-year-old. “The last couple of seasons I’ve been second to Soane. He was a fantastic player and I learned a lot from him. I can only thank him for that.
“If I’d been blooded in too early it could have made me or broken me, but at the moment I think I’m playing quite well in my scrummaging.
“I’m just going to take it game by game but hopefully over the next couple of weeks I can keep improving and keep putting my hand up and hopefully I’ll get a few more starts.”
In Corbisiero’s absence Waller has taken on some of the British game’s best tighthead props – and got the better of them.
He took down Ospreys and Lions star Adam Jones in a Heineken Cup game, before getting the better of another Lions player, Saracens’ Matt Stevens.
“I like to challenge myself and there’s no better place to challenge yourself than against some of the best props themselves,” said Waller.
“Matt and Adam had just come off a Lions tour. It was a tough test but I think it was good for me.
“I learned a lot, came out with the upper hand and it was fantastic for me as a confidence boost that I can do it against some of the best.”
And Waller is now hoping to continue to prove himself against the best as he bids to keep the No.1 shirt for the rest of the season.
He said: “It’s very unfortunate for Alex (Corbisiero) that he’s picked up that knock. He had a fantastic game for England before that happened and I wish him all the best for his recovery.
“But at the moment it’s just about getting on as a squad and moving forward as a squad and I’ll be doing everything I can to make it a headache for Jim and Westy when he comes back.
“Hopefully I can continue his good form in the scrum and we can keep on being a dominant force.”