Waldrom happy to be home to help Lions

Monday, August 13, 2018    Campbell Burnes    

But the 35-year-old knows he still has a valuable job to do as he eyes up a season with the Wellington Lions in the Premiership section of the Mitre 10 Cup.

Waldrom, who won four caps for England, left New Zealand rugby in 2009 having proven one of the more popular players in provincial rugby with both Wellington and Hawke’s Bay.

“I knew my time was up and I wasn’t going to play for the All Blacks. You want to play at the highest level. That was my main goal, to try and play for England. I achieved that goal. I have to give Leicester huge credit. I enjoyed my time there and then moving to Exeter was a different challenge, a bit like with the Lions now with a lot of young guys. It’s about providing that guidance and putting them on the tight track,” says Waldrom.

At the Mitre 10 season launch in Auckland, he joked that he wouldn’t be dispensing advice about diet. However, he may well suit up at No 8, with Vaea Fifita keen to see more game time at blindside flanker. He is well rested after the end of the northern season in May, having opted out of club rugby.

Waldrom, who debuted for Wellington as an 18-year-old way back in 2001, started out being guided by the likes of Filo Tiatia, Rodney So’oialo, Kupu Vanisi and Jerry Collins. Some of his new teammates were in nappies, let along short pants, when Waldrom first played in this competition.

He reckons he may have to shed a couple of kilos to keep pace in the Mitre 10 Cup, but the physicality of the UK Premiership, where he won titles with both Leicester and Exeter, is up a notch.

“Family was the biggest thing (in coming home). My wife was keen to return and it was the right time for me too,” says Waldrom. He is not the sole 30-something suiting up again in this competition. Men like Tanerau Latimer, with Bay of Plenty, are keen to give back in 2018.

“It still shows the NPC means a lot when us older guys are coming back. Provincial rugby is still massive.”

Amen to that.

As for the Lions, Championship winners in 2017, they are assembling a solid squad that will push hard for the Premiership semifinals, at least. Waldrom tracked the Lions’ progress via the box in the UK. It will be interesting to see how coach Chris Gibbes uses him, but the man himself says he is “keen to be in the front-line.”

“You play different provinces and they might be in different sections, but you are still playing for your province and that is really important. After 17 years, I’m really looking forward to that challenge.”

That mark of 100 games for Wellington – he is on 80 – is in the back of his mind, but for now you know Waldrom will empty the tank.

*Wellington host Otago on August 19 in a crossover clash to open its campaign.