Average back rower to prop idol - Alex Waller’s Saints journey

Alex Waller made his 200th Saints appearance last Friday (picture: Sharon Lucey)

Alex Waller made his 200th Saints appearance last Friday (picture: Sharon Lucey)

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To play 200 games for Saints before your 27th birthday, you have to possess both immense physical and mental toughness.

And Alex Waller has displayed those qualities in abundance since arriving at Franklin’s Gardens as a youngster.

It wasn’t all plain sailing for the prop, who actually started out as a back row forward.

“I was a distinctly average one,” Waller says, laughing.

“(Former Saints Academy coach) Grant (Seely) played a massive part in my development and my career because he wanted to push me into the front row.

“He saw my potential but knew I wasn’t going to cut it at back row.

“Grant and Rob Hunter, who is now at Exeter, were a massive part in developing my career and helping me through.”

Seely tells the story of how Waller was told to leave the Academy, go away and transform into a prop.

And Waller said: “Rob must have been sick of me the year I was out because I must have text him every day telling him how I was playing.

“They gave me a shot and hopefully I’ve taken it and made them proud.”

So what did Waller, then a teenager, do when he was sent away from the Academy?

“When I first got sent away, I was gutted and obviously very upset,” he said.

“I spoke to Rob and Grant and they put me in touch with Rugby Lions just to get some experience of senior rugby because I only turned to prop at 17, 18 years old, so I was quite a late-comer.

“I played at Rugby Lions for a year and I can’t thank them enough for giving me the opportunity to play some men’s rugby.

“I had five minutes here for the Wanderers and I more or less pestered my way into the club.

“I just had to take that opportunity when it came and hopefully I’ve done that and hopefully I’ve done them proud for them giving me the opportunity.”

Waller has certainly taken his chance, learning from the likes of Soane Tonga’uiha and Alex Corbisiero before becoming Saints’ first-choice loosehead prop.

He hit his double century of appearances by starting in the 24-5 victory against Sale Sharks at the Gardens last weekend and he was given a standing ovation by the Franklin’s Gardens faithful.

So what are his highlights during an already action-packed career at the club he supported as a boy?

“Obviously winning the Amlin and winning the Premiership with the lads (in 2014) was a highlight,” said Waller.

“Making my debut was a massive honour for me, up there because of all the hard work I put in.

“I’m just incredibly proud to have played this much for the team that I grew up watching.”

Waller scored a dramatic winning try in the final seconds of extra-time in the 2014 Aviva Premiership final against Saracens.

He was battered and bruised that day, sporting a huge cut on his face, but despite his many war wounds, he has enjoyed a remarkable run of games, managing not to miss a match through injury since the 2011 Heineken Cup final against Leinster.

He was the first player to play in 100 consecutive Premiership matches.

But he said: “I tend to get cut pretty easily, but I’ve been lucky. I don’t know why, because I’m not doing anything differently to any of the other boys.

“I’ve been lucky and hopefully that continues.”

And so say all at Saints.