The big interview: Retiring Saints legend Alex Waller talks to Tom Vickers

Alex Waller has a notebook that he writes in before every game he plays.
Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

And this season, he has been adding the words 'enjoy it, it's the last time you're going to be here' at the end of each entry.

Because Waller knows that match could be the final one of its kind for him.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Whether it's a trip to Saracens, a mouthwatering match-up against Munster at Thomond Park or a local derby against Leicester Tigers at Mattioli Woods Welford Road, it is well and truly a farewell tour for the 34-year-old.

Alex Waller (photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)Alex Waller (photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Alex Waller (photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Waller will hang up his boots this summer as he calls time on a storied career, during which he has cemented his status as a Saints legend.

He has racked up 370 appearances so far for the black, green and gold, an astonishing achievement for someone who plays in such an attritional position.

Waller has shown longevity that many can only dream of, turning up week after week for the club he joined at the age of just 14.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

And he is clearly grateful for all that he has experienced and all that is left to enjoy, making sure he savours each moment now he knows retirement is just around the corner.

"I remember speaking to Mikey Haywood when he made the decision to retire and he'd be like 'it's my last time here, I'm going to try to enjoy it'," Waller said.

"There's a slight change in your mindset where you appreciate the job for what it is.

"It can become quite repetitive at times and you don't necessarily appreciate playing at a packed Franklin's Gardens or going away to Welford Road until you realise it's going to be the last time you're going to do it.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"It's definitely been a change in mindset and I've got a little notebook where I do all my notes before a game and at the bottom now I always put 'enjoy it, it's the last time you're going to be here'.

"It's actually made me really appreciative of what I've been able to do and what I do every day."

So was it difficult for Waller to decide that this season would be his last?

"It was and it wasn't," he said.

"There's always the nagging in the back of your mind to say 'I can still mix it, maybe I can do another year' and I think I possibly could.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"But the selfish part of me wants to leave the game with a bit more in the tank, with people thinking ‘he could still play’ rather than ‘he played too long’.

"You just know when it's time and I had a long chat with Dows (Saints boss Phil Dowson). We go way back so it was quite a nice chat, and from then on it's just been about trying to finish on a high.

"There's going to be some emotion and probably some tears at some point because it's a massive change - the club's been part of my life since I was 14.

"But I'm working with Woody (Tom Wood) with the woodwork - Waller & Wood Woodworks - so there's some normality there because he's an ex-team-mate and we work pretty well together.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"I will still be around the club next season doing some matchday stuff so I'll still be connected to the club in that way, but it's time to become a fan after this season and I'm looking forward to hopefully finishing on a high."

Waller and Wood are business partners and close friends.

And just as Wood did, Waller clearly wants to make sure he goes out on a high rather than pushing himself too far and leaving on a low.

Waller said: "Woody and I obviously spend a lot of time together and I ran it past a lot of my mates. The benefit of being a young lad in an older squad when I started is that most of my close mates have retired so I had a fair few to ping ideas off and talk things through with, and Woody was definitely one of those.

"It's something I picked up when he retired that I wanted to emulate with people saying I could do a bit more rather than I stayed too long.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"He had an influence in that mindset and I definitely spoke to other boys.

"It's going to be a difficult challenge and a new one but one I'm looking forward to."

Waller counts Wood among the biggest influences on him during his time at Saints.

He said: "Obviously my relationships with Woody and Courts are very well known. Dyl (Dylan Hartley) was a massive influence for me when I was younger and we became really good mates throughout that.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"You look at the likes of Soane (Tonga'uiha) and Mooj (Brian Mujati) when I was younger, pulling me through into that front row.

"So there's been loads of big influences on me, probably too many to mention because I'd miss some out and do them a disservice but those are certainly the ones I've been through the most with and when I'm struggling, those are the ones I go to."

And for all of the special moments he's had on the field, including scoring the winning try in the final as Saints won the Premiership for the first, and so far only time, it's the bonds he's formed with team-mates and staff that mean most for Waller.

When asked for his career highlights, the Kettering-born loosehead prop said: "Things that everyone would see be those games, winning the trophies, the semi-final here against Leicester, but for me it's about the ups and the downs you go through with a certain amount of people.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"It's about the relationships you make with the boys, the backroom staff and some of these people I've been here with since I was 15. Matt Lee, the physio, was treating me when I was in the Junior Academy and he's still treating me now. He must be sick of me!

"You spend more time with the lads here than you do with your family, and that was a massive part in my decision to maybe be a bit less selfish now and spend a lot more time with them and be able to physically commit to the kids and not be struggling when the lad wants to play with me.

"The thing I will remember most are the connections and friendships I've made for life.

"We had that 10-year (double-winning) anniversary dinner a few weeks ago and some of those boys I haven't seen for 10 years, but as soon as you get in a room together and crack a beer, it's like I saw them yesterday and those friendships carry on. That's the main thing I will take away from this career.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"Those boys become extended family. I'm godparents to Courts' (Courtney Lawes) kids and he's godparent to mine so you've created another family here and the relationships here will long outlast anyone's playing career."

Having said that though, Waller is desperate to deliver at least one more trophy to Saints before he retires.

"You play the game to win trophies and on a completely selfish note, it would be amazing to finish my career by winning a trophy, either the Premiership or Europe, and drift off into the sunset," said Waller, who is Saints' record appearance holder in the professional era, and the eighth-most capped player in the club's history

"Whether it happens or not, I don't know. A lot can happen but it would be quite poetic and it's the goal.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"But in terms of the club, I think we're in a good spot and we're moving forward in a pretty decent way.

"Obviously last weekend (the 52-21 defeat at Bristol Bears) was a bit of a blip but we've not lost anything and not won anything yet.

"It's all to play for and like we've seen in previous years, you just need to finish in that top four and then it's anybody's game."