"World's Longest Retirement" - Alex Waller Hangs Up Boots After Northampton Win Premiership Title - Ruck

“World’s Longest Retirement” – Alex Waller Hangs Up Boots After Northampton Win Premiership Title

Northampton Saints stalwart Alex Waller ended his playing career on Saturday, after winning the Premiership title at Twickenham. It was the perfect send-off for the legendary loosehead prop, after a careers-worth of service in green, black and gold.

The definition of a ‘one club man’, Waller has been apart of the Franklin’s Gardens family since signing his first professional contract in 2009. Now after a decade and a half of Northampton caps, Waller has ridden off into the sunset with a Premiership winners medal draped around his neck. Speaking in the post match mix zone following Northampton’s 25-21 triumph over Bath, Waller expressed his thoughts on a ‘surreal’ end to his playing days.

Alex Waller of Northampton Saints, Fin Smith of Northampton Saints and Sam Matavesi of Northampton Saints clebrating the win during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Final Match between Northampton Saints and Bath Rugby at Twickenham Stadium on 8 June 2024. Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

“It feels like the world’s longest retirement. It has just go on and on and one, which isn’t a bad thing. It is quite surreal at the moment. I will probably get hit with a dose of reality on Monday or Tuesday. At the moment, it is a fairytale ending for me on a completely selfish note. To finish my career winning the Premiership with a bunch of amazing blokes who I have been through a lot with. I have sort of bookended my career winning Premiership trophies. It is not too bad a way to finish.”

“I am not sure what the plans are but I think it involves copious amounts of alcohol and a lot of celebrating around Northampton. If anyone finds me on the floor, could they please return me to my wife!”

Waller started off his final match as a Saint, and emptied the tank after a 52 minute effort. The 34-year-old was replaced by Immanuel Iyogun in the front row, whilst Waller received a resounding ovation from the green, black and gold faithful that packed themselves into Twickenham. The prop could do no more for his men, and described his feelings as the Saints began to trail in the final, before Alex Mitchell’s match-winning try secured a memorable victory.

Try Celebrations for Alex Mitchell of Northampton Saints during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Final Match between Northampton Saints and Bath Rugby at Twickenham Stadium on 8 June 2024. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

“We did not make easy work. It was not our best performance, I am sure Courts alluded to that, but a win’s a win at the end of the day. In a couple of months, people will just remember that we won. Credit to Bath. They’re a great team and to go down to 14 men and keep in the fight shows the quality and depth they have in their squad.

“It was tense on the bench. I had to take myself away to the changing rooms a couple of times for a few minutes pretending I needed the toilet just to get away from the action. We didn’t make it easy.”

“I think the underlying confidence in the squad is probably what got us over the line. We had faced that adversity a couple of times this season, being behind against some big sides like Toulon and we had a couple of big dances here against Quins, the semi-final against Leinster.

Alex Waller of Northampton Saints during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Semi Final Match between Saracens and Northampton Saints at Stonex Stadium on 13 May 2023. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

“We have had a bit of experience with big stadiums and big games so that’s probably what got us over the line today. Bath were a credit to themselves and pushed us in a lot of areas but we were lucky enough to get over the line.”

Amongst the Northampton players that ran out for last weekend’s final, only Waller and Courtney Lawes were apart of the squad which won the 2014 Premiership title. In a moment that is amongst the greatest of Waller’s career, the prop’s extra time match winning try secured the title a decade ago, much to the chagrin of Saracens. When asked if he could draw any similarities between the two finals from 10 years apart, Waller said;

Alex Waller of Northampton Saints, Curtis Langdon of Northampton Saints, Trevor Davison of Northampton Saints and Alex Moon of Northampton Saints celebrates after winning during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Final Match between Northampton Saints and Bath Rugby at Twickenham Stadium on 8 June 2024. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

“There are a lot of parallels between the two teams, completely different styles of rugby. Obviously the game progresses, the game moves on and the game develops. You can’t compare the teams in terms of style. But the massive parallel between the two teams is the connection off the field. I think that’s the massive thing I take away from the 2014 and 2024 winning teams. We are a tight unit off the pitch as well as on it.

“Whether that gives you an extra couple of percent on the pitch I don’t know, but that is the closest parallel I could take. It is the closest group that I have been a part of for a long, long time and the talent is undeniable. The likes of Furbs, Tommy, Sleights and a few lads coming through, the club is in a good place.

“I am going to look forward to watching as fan in the next coupe of years and hopefully the lads don’t make it as stressful because I don’t think I can cope not being involved. Dyls (Dylan Hartley), Woody (Tom Wood) and Christian Day were here today and I will have a chat with them to see how they held up but I can’t imagine they would have been a very fun experience.”

Alex Waller of Northampton Saints during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Semi Final Match between Saracens and Northampton Saints at Stonex Stadium on 13 May 2023. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

A total of 16 players are exiting the Saints this Summer, with the likes of the Alex and his brother Ethan Waller heading into retirement, and Courtney Lawes and Lewis Ludlam pursuing pastures new in France (Brive and Toulon). Whilst the prop admits that there will be a significant gap left at Franklin’s Gardens for the new season, he expects the current crop to usher in the new generation, so that the Saints fans don’t have to wait another 10 years for their next Premiership title celebrations.

“There’s always that power vacuum when someone leaves of Courtney’s calibre and Ludds’ (Lewis Ludlam) character but if you look at the squad that’s coming through. This year we’ve used a hell of a lot of players, especially in the pack, and everyone has stood up to the occasion and it has been a seamless transition. You’ve got Colesy (Alex Coles), Manny (Iyogun), all these boys that are young and pushing us older lads.

Alex Coles of Northampton Saints on the break during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Semi Final match between Northampton Saints and Saracens at cinch Stadium at FranklinÕs Gardens, Northampton on 31 May 2024. – PHOTO: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

“The club is in great hands. And the boys coming through, the lads from the academy that have just signed, we see them around the club and some of them are bigger than Christmas. I don’t know what they’re feeding them but the club is in good hands, especially in the forwards and I’m looking forward to seeing how we develop.”

“It’s just about continuing that momentum, not resting on your laurels. That was a little bit of our downfall in 2014. After that we didn’t develop as much, the game moved on and we stayed in the same place with the same plan that we thought worked. But everyone adapted, that’s what sport is.

“They’ve got to keep developing and keep evolving and with Sam (Vesty) and Dows (Phil Dowson) and Ferg (Matt Ferguson) and Radders (Lee Radford), all the coaches we’ve got, that’s not going to be an issue. Even this season we’ve changed a lot from when we started to now so I don’t see that as an issue.”

Speaking off his now former Director of Rugby, Waller gave his thoughts on a career shared both playing alongside and under the coaching guidance of Phil Dowson. The former lock joined the Saints from Newcastle Falcons back in 2009, and remained at the Gardens before his departure to Worcester Warriors in 2015. Dowson returned to Northamptonshire in 2017 as the club’s assistant coach and has progressed up the backroom staff, to where he now sits as the DoR.

“He’s a credit to himself.” Waller said. “Mine and Phil’s relationship goes way back. We played with each other for 8-9 years and I’ve seen his coaching journey go from skills coach all the way to DoR. It’s been a hell of a journey for him and this is only the start hopefully. He’s very switched on and there’s no way he’ll be resting on his laurels.

Courtney Lawes of Northampton Saints and Head Coach Phil Dowson look on prior to the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Northampton Saints and Exeter Chiefs at Franklins Gardens, Northampton on 12 November 2023. – PHOTO: Patrick Khachfe/PPAUK

“I’m sure his already thinking about stuff, he’s a nause like that, I can say that now that he can’t sack me! But hopefully he reflects on the journey he’s had as a coach and what he’s managed to achieve with his team he’s put together. Hopefully that fills him with confidence and gives him the spur to go and do it again next season.”

One of Waller’s former coaches was present for the Premiership Final, as Chris Boyd was in attendance at Twickenham to see the Saints march to the top of the English rugby pyramid. The New Zealander took charge of the Saints from 2018 to 2022 as the club’s DoR, and had enjoyed some reunions with the likes of Waller and Lawes in the run up and aftermath of the showpiece match.

Northampton Saints director of rugby, Chris Boyd during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Exeter Chiefs and Northampton Saints at Sandy Park on February 23rd 2020, Exeter, Devon. Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

“Yeah, I caught up with Boydy briefly yesterday. He’s retired now, like me, but still doing a little bit and keeps in touch. For the likes of Boydy, Rob Horne’s over as well and saw the boys yesterday, for those sort of lads to travel halfway around the world just because they’re connected speaks volumes about what the club means to them and that they’ve bought into the whole vibe as well.

“It’s amazing to see those sorts of characteristics. It was amazing to see Horney, obviously he had his tragic accident, but especially for the boys who played with him, yesterday was a really nice surprise. Hopefully he’s pretty proud, and Boydy the same, they started us on this journey, helped developed the coaches and moved on but he’s invested enough to still come and watch us play 80 minutes of average rugby!”