Northampton Saint Alex Waller is Premiership Rugby’s ironman, and one of the most robust props in the world, but ironically without a childhood injury he may not have made it to where he is now.
The loosehead currently holds the record for the most consecutive Aviva Premiership appearances with 150, only ended by a broken arm sustained against Newcastle Falcons last month – an astonishing achievement for both consistency and the ability to avoid injury.
The 27-year-old has made well over 200 appearances for Northampton and we caught up with the club stalwart to find out how he got to this point.
Back to front
Born in Kettering and the older brother of Worcester Warriors prop Ethan, Waller came into the sport relatively late and didn’t start playing until the age of 13.
Moving to Wellingborough School where rugby was mandatory, Waller was forced to try out the game and quickly found his feet, impressing as a rampaging back-row before injury struck.
“I broke my leg when I was 16 or 17,” said Waller. “In that off-period I gained a bit of weight shall we say.
“When I came back I was still playing back-row but then we had a bit of an injury crisis in the front-row.
“The coaches tried to persuade me to give it a crack and I fought it vigorously. I didn’t want all the stereotypes that come along with playing in the front-row.
“Once I got into it I really enjoyed it – it’s a physical position and quite technical, so I thought if I could do the scrummaging and still play like a back-row I’ll be alright.
“I swallowed my pride and gave it a crack – I’m glad I did because I don’t think I’d be here now as a back-rower.”
Part of the furniture
The 6ft 1in forward was soon drafted into the Saints Academy and rose through the ranks to make his senior debut against Ospreys towards the end of 2009.
Becoming an ever-present for the Midlands side, Waller went on to power Saints to silverware, winning the Challenge Cup and Aviva Premiership titles in 2014 – scoring the dramatic extra-time try against Saracens to seal that league title.
Waller uses his controlled aggression to good effect on the rugby field, and it seems that fieriness occasionally spills over into his hobbies too.
“I do a lot of woodwork,” he added. “Me and Tom Wood do quite a lot of projects together, we mill our own wood up and build furniture.
“I’ve got a workshop at my house and I spend a lot of time in there, I think my missus likes me getting out of her hair.
“It switches me off from rugby and allows me to focus on one thing. It takes me away for a few hours and all I have to do is focus on putting two bits of wood together.
Have a look guys and girls, All for a good cause! https://t.co/LUwedspx3K— Alex Waller (@alex_waller) November 27, 2017
“Generally it’s been alright, I’ve had a few stinkers but the end products are usually good!
“There’s been a few though where I’m trying to work out a problem for hours, ended up walking out of the workshop, slamming the door and going and sitting down with a chocolate bar.
“You walk back in and it’s so blatantly obvious you’ve been looking at it completely the wrong way, I’ve had a few fallouts with tools and bits of wood.”
The loosehead has grown up playing rugby in the front-row alongside brother Ethan, coming through Northampton’s academy together before forming the cornerstone of the Saints pack for years.
Ethan left the club for Worcester over the summer, and Alex shed some light on what it was like to play against his brother in top-flight rugby for the first time earlier this season.
“It was quite an experience,” said the older sibling. “There was some awful chat going both ways.
“But apart from that it was good, it was quite physical, we had a one-on-one where I was carrying and he tried to hit me quite hard.
“He got the last laugh with Worcester winning (30-15), but he’s doing well down there and starting a lot of games now.
“I saw him briefly over Christmas and caught up, which was nice.
“He bought me a Worcester Warriors teddy bear for Christmas which was brilliant – that went straight to my dog.”