(Photo: Getty Images)
By Neale Harvey
Premiership crowd favourite Thomas Waldrom has not ruled out a return to Super Rugby after calling time on his eight-year stay with Leicester and Exeter.
Waldrom, who has won a legion of fans with superlative performances despite an un-athletic appearance, has quit the Chiefs to join Wellington Lions, where he will compete in New Zealand’s Mitre 10 Cup before deciding his playing future.
Waldrom, 35, told The Rugby Paper: “I’m contracted to Wellington until December and haven’t ruled out anything after that. I’ll give my body a rest and if an opportunity in Super Rugby is on the cards, I’ll seriously think about it.
“It’ll be nice to represent my hometown club again – Wellington’s a bit like Chiefs, with a lot of young guys who need some guidance.
“Longer term I’d like to stay in rugby and I really enjoy the mentoring side of things with the 18 or 19-year-olds, so I might look to work in an academy. Whatever happens, I’ll look back at my time in English rugby with huge pride.”
Twice a Premiership title winner, first with Leicester in 2013 before repeating the feat with Exeter last year, Waldrom holds the distinction of having finished in the top four in all bar one of his eight seasons, helping Chiefs become a powerhouse.
He said: “In my heart I believe Exeter are an established top four side now and with the coaching staff they have, led by Rob Baxter, they’re in good shape.
“Sam Simmonds is an outstanding footballer to fill my position and I believe Matt Kvesic will have an excellent season next year. He knows the system now and is ready to kick-on with Exeter and England, and Rob will keep driving that.
“When I first came to Exeter they were almost embarrassed to talk about making the top four, but I helped to change that mindset and now they’re talking about the top two. That keeps the pressure on to achieve things, which is lovely.”
Waldrom believes the RFU need look no further for a successor to England boss Eddie Jones, adding: “Only Rob Baxter will decide what he does, but he’s got all the credentials and is a great man-manager who gets the best from players.
“He took me out of Leicester when I wasn’t playing very much in 2014 and the way he does his analysis on players, there’s no better example of his work. If I do go into coaching, Rob, left, and Todd Blackadder are guys I’ll aim to follow.”
Waldrom’s 158 Premiership appearances produced 54 tries, just five behind the record for a back rower held by Neil Back, with each of them celebrated with the trademark ‘toot, toot’, earning the nickname ‘Thomas The Tank’.
Waldrom revels in a body shape which defies convention in an age of gym monkeys. He admits concerns over current trends towards size.
“People look at you and think ‘he’s not going to be fit’, but rugby’s a game for all shapes and sizes and I love proving people wrong,” he said. “People are written off too early and I do think some of the younger guys today lack the confidence to tell conditioners what they need. There are more contacts and people are getting bigger so we must be careful about how the game goes.”
Of his best memories in England, Waldrom added: “My Test debut for England against South Africa in 2012 was right up there, but I’d say Exeter beating Saracens in last year’s Premiership semi-final followed by Wasps in the final tops the lot.”
It’s time to say goodbye to England. It’s been an unbelievable 8 years have really enjoyed my time at @ExeterChiefs @LeicesterTigers @EnglandRugby, have made some really good friends that will be coming back to see at some stage. #toottoot pic.twitter.com/Kq4K2kCJwm
— Thomas waldrom (@Toottankwaldrom) May 31, 2018
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