- Northampton Saints prop has played 82 times for club
- Voted the Young Player of the Season for 2013/14
From pantomimes to sibling rivalry, this week's featured Premiership player is one of Northampton Saints' brightest young stars - the multi-talented Ethan Waller.
Mince pies, mulled wine…and Ebenezer Foden!?
It’s fair to say at Northampton Saints they do Christmas a little differently, and Ethan Waller – the mastermind behind the now annual Franklin’s Gardens pantomime – was relieved to see this year’s edition go off without a hitch.
Narrating the story alongside his brother, Alex, the Wallers are both Saints fan favourites, but on the pitch 24-year-old Ethan – known fondly as ‘Beef’ to almost everyone in Northampton – and his brother are very much rivals.
A Saints Christmas Carol
In a bid to spread Christmas cheer and raise a lot of money for charity, for the last two years Waller has penned a special pantomime which is performed by the Saints squad, following up last year’s nativity with a twist on Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ in 2016.
Off the back of two heavy defeats to Leinster in Europe, the timing could not have been better to try and put smiles back on faces at Franklin’s Gardens.
And with a 24-5 win over Sale Sharks following two days later, Waller’s brainchild clearly had the desired effect.
“It was an idea Ross McMillan had when he was here as he did loads for charity, and we finally managed to put it into practise last year,” he said.
“We raised about £4,500 in one night, so it was a great way to give back to the fans and the community.
“It’s really stressful as I write the whole thing, and the tickets sold out within a day this year, but we put a lot of smiles on faces and all the proceeds went to Restart Rugby and a local disability school.
“Ironically Ben Foden, one of the happier men in the team, was Scrooge this year but I know he really commits to his acting so you’ve got to give him a big role.
“James Grayson was the Ghost of Christmas Past, and Alex and I were the narrators. I had to make a few cameos as well – some of the lads you can get in front of 15,000 people playing rugby but are too scared to stand on a stage in front of 300, so I picked up a bit of the slack.”
SAINTSTV Get behind the scenes at 'Saints' Christmas Carol in this week's show https://t.co/L3VgSapIHV— Northampton Saints (@SaintsRugby) December 23, 2016
Sibling rivalry or brotherly love?
Competing with your older brother for the same No.1 jersey cannot be easy, but Waller insists he feels nothing but admiration for 26-year-old prop Alex’s achievements at Northampton.
Having learned his craft from stints with Coventry and then Moseley, where former Welsh tighthead Ben Evans took him under his wing, Ethan returned to Franklin’s Gardens in 2013 with a first-team contract and renewed determination to break into the side.
But that has proved a hard task so far, with Alex this week notching up his 200th Saints appearance remarkably having not missed a game in the Premiership or Europe since the 2011 Heineken Cup final.
“It is quite an odd one, of course there is always that element of brotherly rivalry,” said Ethan.
“But at the end of the day we are family, and to see what he has done in terms of recording the most continuous games in the Premiership, you’ve still got to be extremely proud of him. I want to achieve what he has.
“In truth I don’t think I’d be where I am without him. I wouldn’t have got a trial here at Northampton if he hadn’t already been here, and then after that he’s always been helping me out and giving me advice as he’d been through it all already.
“Now looking at it, we are both vying for the same position at one of the best clubs in the country, so that is unique and we don’t want to take it for granted.
“In school he was actually in the back row; I remember when they initially switched him to prop he threatened to quit – how times change.”
Where’s the ‘Beef’?
Following the success of golfer Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnson, Waller admits he is probably not the most famous current sportsman to bear that particular nickname.
But around Northampton there will only ever be one man with his meaty billing.
“I have to say I wasn’t expecting anyone else in the sporting world to be nicknamed ‘Beef’ but sadly there is,” he joked.
“It originally came from my mum; I was just quite a fat baby and she called me Beef from when I was two – but it’s not as cruel as it sounds, it was in an affectionate way.
“That just stuck through school with my friends and teachers, and it’s the same here at Saints where everyone calls me Beef.
“I think there’s probably a fair few people that don’t actually know my real name. I’ve begun to introduce myself as Beef which I don’t think helps – I may as well put it on the birth certificate now.
“I’ve never met the golfer but it would be quite cool to see if there were many similarities between us. He is a lot more famous than me however so he’s certainly winning on that front."
Born to be wild
Waller’s talent for performing is not limited to panto performances, as like several other Premiership stars, he also boasts a passion for music.
And aside from once performing in a pub that was unfortunately showing a game he was not selected for, Waller feels just as at home playing with his band – the ‘TVB’ – as he does with ball in hand.“It’s a nice escape to have, and something I’m very passionate about."
He said: “Away from rugby I play in a band with my dad, one of his friends, and a friend of mine.
“It’s very casual so we just play down the pub now and again – mostly covers of rock and pop songs so we’re your bog-standard pub band. ‘Born to be wild’ is my favourite.
“It’s a release for me, although I remember when I wasn’t playing as much I actually played a gig in a place that was also showing a Northampton game at the same time, which was a bit awkward.
“I’m really into my music so if ever I’ve had a tough day I tend to just lock myself away in my room with a guitar and have a dabble.
“It’s a nice escape to have, and something I’m very passionate about.”