Waller backs Saints rotation as he reveals effects of relentless game time

Alex Waller steered Saints to Premiership Rugby Cup glory last season
Alex Waller steered Saints to Premiership Rugby Cup glory last season

While he was fit to play last weekend, Alex Waller didn't actually feature at the AJ Bell Stadium.

In a situation that would have been unheard of a few years ago, the 29-year-old prop was given the weekend off as Ben Franks and Will Davis shared the loosehead burden against Sale Sharks.

And with Francois van Wyk and Toby Trinder among the others to miss out, it showed how many options Saints have in the position right now.

For Academy graduate Waller, that is ideal, as his body has been through the mill since he made his debut during the 2009/10 season.

He still holds the record for the most consecutive appearances by any player in Premiership history.

But though he still craves game time, the co-captain is happy to share the load more frequently these days.

"In terms of the front row, I think we've got some of the best strength in depth across the front row in the Premiership," Waller said.

"At loosehead, Franner (van Wyk) is playing awesome, Ben Franks, myself, Will Davis and the young boys coming through like Toby (Trinder) and Manny (Emmanuel Iyogun).

"At tighhead, we've got Owen Franks coming in, Hilly (Paul Hill), Ehren Painter, Karl (Garside) and other boys coming through.

"There's a great amount of competition, but that only brings success.

"There's no animosity between us, we're all working together and there's going to be a lot of squad rotation, which is going to help people out.

"From experience, playing 30 games on the bounce in a year by the time you get to 25, you're just hanging on really.

"Rotation is great, especially in the front row.

"We're all very experienced and you don't get more experienced than Ben Franks with a couple of World Cup winners medals around his neck.

"He's great to lean on off the pitch because he's seen it all.

"The competition is strong but we're all on fire and I'm excited.

"I will play as much as I can.

"I want to play every game but that's not a realistic expectation and the load is going to be shared."

Waller, who scored the winning try in the Premiership final success against Saracens in 2014, will be looking to rediscover the kind of form that earned him a place on England's summer tour of New Zealand five years ago.

He somehow remained largely injury free until suffering an arm break in December 2017, but he admits all of the minutes he got under his belt eventually had a big impact.

"If you name me on the teamsheet I'm going to give it my all, but in hindsight it probably did have a detrimental effect in the long run," Waller said. "That goes back years, not last year.

"And I'm getting older, even if I don't look it, so rotation is a great thing.

"Me, Franksy, Franner and Will can really push each other and hopefully you'll see some good rugby from all of us."

Not only will he share game time this season, Waller will also share the captaincy.

But this time it won't be with Dylan Hartley - it will be with Teimana Harrison.

And Waller is delighted to have Harrison by his side.

"From seeing Tei when Dyls first brought him over (from New Zealand) with his heinous dreadlocks and he wouldn't say boo to a goose - he was very quiet and introvert," Waller said.

"And now you see what he brings on the pitch physically - he's one of the best carriers in world rugby in my opinion.

"He leaves it all on the pitch every week, but also now he's come out of his shell off the pitch.

"He doesn't say a lot but what he does say, the boys listen to.

"Hopefully we can work together really well - we do get on really well.

"We're both dads now so we've got the dad chat.

"We both bring different qualities and hopefully that will show on the pitch.

Next up for Waller, Harrison and Co is a Premiership Rugby Cup clash with Wasps this Saturday.

It will be Saints’ first home game of the new season.

And Waller said: “We’re pumped.

“There’s no place like this to play at and we’re looking forward to putting on a performance.

“We want to start our home season strongly.

“It was a bit of a mixed bag last week (Saints lost 39-18 at Sale) so we’re looking forward to putting that right this weekend.”

Saints are using the four successive Premiership Rugby Cup weeks at the start of the season to help them sharpen up ahead of the Gallagher Premiership opener at Saracens on October 19.

"Because of the World Cup and these four PRC games before the Premiership starts and there's not been many pre-season games, you'll find a lot of the Premiership teams are using these four as pre-season games," Waller said.

"It doesn't diminish them by any means, but there will be a lot of squad rotation going forward and that is good for the squad.

"There have been a lot of debuts and it's going to be a great couple of games to give everyone experience before we fly into Sarries in the Premiership.

"It's a fantastic first Premiership game, you can't ask for a better start because you want to test yourself."

Saints won the Premiership Rugby Cup last season, finished fourth in the Gallagher Premiership and reached the European Challenge Cup quarter-finals.

So what are their aims for this season?

“We want to go better than we did last year,” Waller said.

“At the start of last season, people probably wouldn’t have thought we’d be in the play-offs but we had that self-confidence and we just kept it quiet.

“A couple of games we let slip early on and that could have put us in a home semi-final spot, which might have changed things.

“But we don’t just want parity this year - we want to get better.”