Waldrom out to finish the job
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Thomas Waldrom is ready to put the seal on a season of hard graft by helping Exeter Chiefs to lift the Premiership title for the first time against Wasps on Saturday.
Having missed out 12 months ago due to injury as his club-mates were edged out by Saracens in last season's end of season showpiece, the free-scoring No.8 is back in harness for the this weekend's final encounter at a packed out Twickenham.
Waldrom is no stranger to playing at English Rugby HQ, having featured there in the past for both club and country, but now he wants to help the Chiefs reach the very top by leading from the front against rivals Wasps.
Since arriving in Devon from Leicester Tigers in 2014, the 34-year-old forward has enjoyed a real renaissance in his career, providing a key and experienced link at the base of the Chiefs' renowned pack.
His 48 tries in just 79 appearances is nothing short of extraordinary, but he would happily give up all those tries for a winners medal come full-time tomorrow.
Watching on last season from the sidelines, Waldrom got to live and breath every minute of Exeter's final experience. This year, though, he believes the mindset is different within camp and that nothing less than victory will suffice.
"There is definitely a different feeling to last year, we were probably a little overawed with the occasion, but now we have been there and done that we can park it," said Waldrom.
"We know what will happen when we arrive, there will be a lot of people supporting us, we'll be playing in front of 80 000 people – we have done that now. Now, the focus is about Saturday, we are slowly building and getting our recovery right as well, which is really important leading up to Saturday.
"We just have to focus on what we want to do out on the field and don't let any distractions get in the way."
He added: "For me, missing out in the final last year was disappointing, but seeing the boys there and getting a taste of that experience was definitely worthwhile. Once you get there, you want to go back and it will be nice to go back there and right those wrongs a little bit, go out and actually play in the first half and attack them a bit. We probably didn't do that first time around, so it will be nice to do that this time around.
"We have to go there and be in the right mindset of going and playing rugby. We can't control what people do, which is annoying, but we just go out there and do what we can do and prepare well.
"We just have to go into an important game to try and win the first major trophy, which would be nice.
"It's a showcase and the biggest game of the year. we have been building 11 months for this, putting in a lot of hard work and dedication.
"The support we get is amazing and we want them there supporting us, hearing them cheer and definitely doing the Tomahawk chop and enjoying the day."
Fresh from victory over the defending champions last weekend, the Chiefs will enter into the contest brimming with confidence, not just from that result, but from a run of results that has seen them go 15 games unbeaten in the Premiership.
It's all a far cry from the start of the season where the Chiefs were struggling to find not only form, but results out on the field as well.
"We didn’t start the season as well as we wanted to, but I don’t think that was down to our mindset or anything, we just weren't in the right head space," said Waldrom.
"We probably just thought it would come like it did last year, we would get on a roll and keep going, but it didn't happen, so we had to sit down, reassess what we wanted to achieve and ever since we've done that. We have progressed each week and taken steps, moving forward and got wins on the road, which is important in the Premiership.
"You have to give credit to the coaches. Ali Hepher does a lot of work on our attack, Rob Hunter looks after the forwards and between them all, they do a lot of analysis on defence and ways to get round the opposition.
"I think you have to pride yourself on defence as well. Rob Baxter does a lot of work on our defence as well because you want to make that a force as well and you can turn some of those tries from defence into attack as well.
"As I said, we just have to go in with a clear focus of what we want to achieve with our game plans. That hasn't changed, we just tweak a few things, but then it's going out on the field and making sure we have those in the right place.
"It's up to us now. We have done all our training, it is down to the players to go out and make sure we put our best foot forward. All the prep is done, we have to turn up and make sure our heads are right and start with a bang."