Waller selects his Saints highlight ahead of 300th appearance

You might think it can't get much better than scoring the try that wins the team you have supported all your life their first Premiership trophy.

By Tom Vickers
Saturday, 29th May 2021, 3:07 pm
Alex Waller
Alex Waller

But according to Alex Waller you would be wrong.

That is because, as he looks ahead to making his 300th appearance for Saints this weekend, Waller has been speaking about his favourite game for the club.

And surprisingly it isn't the one against Saracens in May 2014, when he scored a dramatic extra-time try to bring the Premiership trophy back to Northampton for the first and, so far only, time.

Instead, Waller selects a match from a couple of weeks earlier, when 14-man Saints downed local rivals Leicester Tigers at Franklin's Gardens.

He explained: "I tell you what, that final was fantastic and I loved it - it was obviously great winning at Twickenham and being able to score that try - but my favourite game I've ever played for Saints was the Leicester one here a couple of weeks before.

"The atmosphere was amazing and I still haven't ever felt the Gardens like that - it was electric and it was pumping.

"There was controversy with Salesi (Ma'afu) getting sent off and the boys rallying together. It was a true epitomy of what Northampton rugby is about and the fans and how they got behind us.

"We managed to win that game in the dying seconds and it's my favourite game I've ever played in, closely followed by the Premiership final.

"But I would have to edge towards that Leicester game because a lot of people had written us off and thought Leicester would win it but we played out of our skins, down to 14 men at one point and we managed to pull it out of the bag with Woody (Tom Wood) scoring at the end.

"Twickenham was definitely a highlight, but if I had to pick my favourite game I've played with the team it would be that Leicester one."

During the glory days, Waller and Saints continued on an upward trajectory together, with the prop breaking the Premiership record for most consecutive matches played.

Though he does admit that run took its toll on his body!

"That was good and it probably has been a bit detrimental to my body afterwards," the 31-year-old said.

"But I love playing for this club and you'd have to stop me playing before I stop playing.

"As long as I'm fit and can play, I'll get on the pitch.

"It's probably giving me a few more aches and pains but I love it and I wouldn't have it any other way."

Academy graduate Waller has now been at the coalface for Saints for more than 11 years, having made his debut for the club in November 2009.

"It was Ospreys away in the LV= Cup and I think I played alright," he said.

"I was in a bit of a fortunate situation where I was involved a lot as a youngster because of injury.

"I didn't play a lot in that first season because I was on the bench for most of it and obviously Soane (Tonga'uiha) did what Soane did, which was playing 80 minutes.

"It was frustrating at the time but probably the best thing for me in terms of easing myself into Premiership rugby.

"My debut, Ospreys away, not many people there, it was pretty wet and at night so I can remenber it but I don't think it was anything spectacular."

It's fair to say there have been more memorable appearances since then for Waller.

And now he is setting his sights on his 300th, against Wasps this Saturday.

"It's been brilliant to make this many appearances for the club," said the Kettering-born loosehead prop.

"I grew up watching this club from when I was a teenager and to be able to represent it 300 times is always an honour, from the first time I pulled the shirt on to this weekend.

"To be able to captain the side and lead the boys is a huge honour, and every time I pull the shirt on I try to do my best.

"The fans are brilliant, the club is brilliant and the boys are brilliant.

"It's a great place to be and I'm so happy I've managed to do this and hit this milestone and be involved with the club for as long as I have.

"Now all my focus is on playing against Wasps.

"We've still got a lot of work to do and we're aware of that.

"If the top four happens, it happens, but the main focus is Wasps and then on to the next two after that."

Waller would love to celebrate his latest milestone with a win this weekend.

And if he is able to do that, he will do it with as many as 4,000 fans, with supporters finally able to return to Franklin's Gardens for the first time since December.

"We've really missed the fans - the Franklin's Gardens faithful are the best in the country," Waller said.

"We're really looking forward to having them back, albeit in reduced numbers, and I'm sure they'll make themselves heard.

"It will be great for the boys to have that atmosphere.

"Even when we only had 2,000 here for the game against Bordeaux, the atmosphere changed things completely.

"We're nearer 4,000 this weekend and hopefully we can really feel that when we play at the weekend.

"It can give the boys a boost, a morale change and the reason we play the game is because we want to play in front of crowds and entertain people.

"Playing in an empty stadium has been testing at times.

"Hopefully we're on the road out of this now and hopefully we can get more and more fans in here to support us each week."