Waller so happy to be back as Saints try to tame Tigers

There was a time when Alex Waller seemed unbreakable.

Friday, 13th April 2018, 8:00 am
Alex Waller celebrated a Dylan Hartley score against Leicester at Franklin's Gardens back in September and the prop is now looking forward to facing the Tigers at Welford Road tomorrow (picture: Sharon Lucey)

In fact, so resilient was the prop that he smashed appearance records like they were tackle bags.

But then came the game against Newcastle Falcons at Franklin's Gardens in December.

Waller, who had racked up an incredible 150 consecutive Premiership appearances, was struck by a broken arm and even though he battled on bravely, returning to the defensive line in a bid to prevent a last-gasp Falcons score, his amazing run came to an end.

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He was forced to have surgery to sort out the arm issue and has suffered a couple of setbacks while on the comeback trail.

It has been a long four months for the affable front row forward, but having returned in the Wanderers' defeat at Newcastle on Monday night, he is now ready and raring to go.

And that is great news for Saints, who have been relying on Fijian Campese Ma'afu and South African Francois van Wyk in recent weeks and months.

For Waller, it is a satisfying end to an irksome spell on the sidelines.

He has been desperate to get out on the field to help his struggling side, but instead he has been forced to occupy himself in other ways, alongside the necessary gruelling rehab work.

"It's been frustrating," said Waller.

"Someone said to me I've had all my breaks in one now.

"It was difficult, especially to not be able to help physically.

"I tried to do as much as I could behind the scenes and help the boys out how I could, but it was very difficult to watch and I'm just really happy I could make it back for this season.

"At one point, it didn't look likely. I'm just pumped to be back and hopefully we can put a good display at Leicester this Saturday."

On how he has been busying himself, Waller said: "It's been difficult trying to keep myself sane and not hit everyone!

"I did as much woodwork as I could with one arm for the first three months and set up a pizza thing with my brother (Ethan), called Slice Slice Baby. He really likes puns so that's where that's come from.

"It's only something small at the moment, we'll hopefully build it during the off-season and you may see it down in the fans' village on matchday sooner rather than later.

"I'm not sure it's necessarily the future career but it's an experience outside of rugby and it's building a brand.

"It will be something that stands us in good stead and if it takes off, that's brilliant.

"We're not going out there for it to be a flop.

"We're going to be as successful as we can be and become more rounded people."

Waller laughs as he says that, with the smile most certainly back on his face as he savours the build-up to Saturday's east midlands derby.

To return in time for one of his team's biggest games of a troubled season clearly carries added satisfaction.

"I'd like to have been back sooner, but what a comeback week: Leicester Tigers, Welford Road, 25,000 people, local derby - it doesn't get much better than that," Waller said.

"I'm pumped to get out there, I'm really looking forward to running out with the boys and hopefully we can put on a decent performance and give a little bit back to the fans.

"It's been a tough season for us and also for the supporters - we fully understand that.

"We really appreciate the support, even through these low times, and I think the future is bright.

"I'm optimistic and hopefully we can just finish on a high and the reset."

Waller has never won at Welford Road, with Stephen Myler and Dylan Hartley the only members of the current squad to have beaten Tigers on their own turf.

That success came in February, 2007, when Myler kicked a penalty and converted a try scored by Mark Robinson as Saints snatched a 10-9 triumph.

"I've come close to winning there a few times, been robbed a few times so I'd definitely like to win there this week," Waller said.

"It would be a highlight in a pretty average season for me personally and obviously it would be a good way to thank the fans for their continued support."

As a product of the Saints Academy, derby day means a bit more to Waller.

And he feels fresher than ever going into this east midlands encounter, having returned from his enforced break by coming through Monday's Wanderers match unscathed.

"It was really good to be back, I really enjoyed it," said the 28-year-old.

"The game on Monday night was one of the stranger ones I've played in because it was one of the most dominant performances and we conceded 37 points.

"On a personal note, it was great to get back out there, test the arm out, see where I'm at with fitness and hopefully put my hand up for this weekend.

"I felt really good.

"(Strength & conditioning coach) Chris Kemp has worked really hard with me over these last 16 weeks, he's flogged me so being on the pitch was easy compared to some of the stuff he's been putting me through.

"After the first 10 minutes, the body remembered what it was like to be on the pitch and I was flying back into it.

"I probably did need a break and my body feels really good for it but you never want to be forced to have that break, you'd rather take it on your own terms during the off-season.

"But you've got to play the cards you've been dealt and I tried to do as much as I could off the pitch.

"Hopefully I can do some stuff on the pitch this weekend."

Waller watched on last weekend as Saints suffered another big defeat to Saracens, losing 63-13 at the Gardens.

And the loosehead prop, who scored the winning try in Saints' Aviva Premiership final win against Saracens in May 2014, said: "In the first half, we kept a very good Saracens team at bay.

"At half-time, I was excited and thought it was going to be a really close game.

"We took our foot off the gas and you can't do that against Saracens - they're not multiple Prem finalists, champions and European champions for no reason.

"We've struggled against Saracens this year, it's embarrassing and humiliating for all of us.

"Probably one of the worst things about rugby is that sort of thing can happen and we're looking forward to putting that right.

"Our intensity in training has been high this week, it always steps up a notch in derby week and hopefully we can right a lot of wrongs because we owe that to the fans."