Life, as we all know, can be a very stressful thing. For those at the very top of the tree, whether that be in business or elite sport, that stress and pressure must be even more magnified and it must be all too easy to become distant, arrogant, self-obsessed and totally removed from us mere mortals! How refreshing it is therefore to come across a rugby player who is certainly at the very top of his profession with his club, but definitely isn’t any of the above and DEFINITELY doesn’t take himself too seriously!

RUGBY MONTHLY sat down with Thomas Waldrom of the Exeter Chiefs to talk all things rugby and a lot more! When you first meet Thomas you understand quickly that he is very serious about his “job” but is also warm, self-effacing, has a great sense of humour. We started by asking a bit about his time at Leicester Tigers –

RM – “Do you think you made the right decision, at the right time, to move from Leicester down to join The Chiefs?”

TW – “Definitely! As a player you tend to know when your time is up and when it’s time to move and for me it felt that way at Leicester. After having spoken with and met Rob Baxter I was excited about the ambition at the club and the plans they had going forward. Coming down here it’s a bit like what I have experienced before with Super Rugby, the club has their way of approaching things when it comes to training and the like but it’s all flexible. You can discuss things in greater detail with the coaches and trainers and work things out. It makes the sessions more intense and makes you think on your feet a lot quicker. As a rugby player I really like that!”

RM – “So we all know how last season finished for you guys, was the goal at the start of the season to win the Premiership and was that something you all believed would happen realistically?”

TW – “To be honest, one of the best things about this club is that we can all sit down at any time and have an open and honest discussion between ourselves, with some harsh words if necessary, but then resolve things quickly and move on in a positive way. The season didn’t start the way we had planned but we spoke about it as a group and changed a few small things. That’s when our fortunes turned around and things started to go well. We definitely bought into things before the start but didn’t let it get to us when early results didn’t go our way. That’s how it is at Exeter. To have Sarries here at the end was amazing. It was one of the best crowds I have ever played in front of, then to play 120 minutes at Twickenham in the Final was unbelievable too. We could feel things were going our way and the attitude and fitness we all showed was real testament to the guy’s commitment and the Coaches hard work.”

RM – “You are firmly established now as one of the fan’s favourite players, and your try scoring record is second to none since you have been here Thomas, as a player can you feed off of the atmosphere in the ground and how important is that?”

TW – “When I first came to the club I couldn’t quite believe how early the fans arrive for the games! But then you realise that there is so much for them to do before KO to keep them entertained and that is just great. As a player you can feel the atmosphere building and building to the point that when we run out to play it is just unreal and almost over whelming. We all definitely feed off of that and the crowd are just amazing. For us as players, that is what makes the Chiefs such a special club to be part of…The Fans. I think it can be a bit intimidating for the opposition too!”

RM – “Following on from the success of last season, do you players feel extra pressure now to win every game this season and go one better in terms of European competition and win that too? Will it be seen as a failure almost if you ONLY win the Premiership again?”

TW – “Ha Ha, that’s a good point! To be honest though we know exactly what we have to do this season and we understand that none of the other clubs will be looking at us as under-dogs now! We have to win our home games and the fact that we also travel well should hold us in good stead. We won in France last season and that was big. We know how to win on the road now and we just have to make sure that this season we are consistent.”

RM – “You always seem to play every game with a smile on your face Thomas and really look like you are enjoying your rugby, do you think that is important, to play the game you want to, and not to take yourself too seriously. And do you think that is what the fans enjoy about you?”

TW – “Ah definitely! I think the most important thing to remember is that Rugby is a game for ALL shapes and sizes and you have to embrace that. I like to get a good balance between the way I play and train and life off the field. I just love playing and watching the game but I am also partial to the odd bit of sweet food too” he laughs…..”It’s definitely important not to take yourself too seriously and just go out and enjoy every single game.”

RM – “Talking of sweet food and enjoying life, we heard a rumour that “The Cookie Club” was alive and kicking at The Chiefs and that there were now some backs who had joined as opposed to it having been just forwards allowed!”

TW – “Well I guess things move on and we just had to let a couple of the backs get involved as some of them are damn good cooks! Ollie Devoto makes a mean Banana cake so how could we not let him join. To be honest though it’s a great way to let off steam and come together at the end of a hard week training and just have a chat and a catch up over a coffee and some cake. We don’t go overboard with it but it’s definitely an afternoon we look forward to!”

RM – “You are now one of the more Experienced players in the squad, and there are a lot of young guys here, do you feel an obligation to mentor them and pass on your experience?”

TW – “It’s always good to be able to lend a guiding hand to some of the young lads sometimes but to be honest they are all pretty well rounded individuals who are VERY talented and know exactly what is expected of them. I quite enjoy the fact that they keep some of us older guys on our toes as we all know they are snapping at our heels in terms o fighting for positions.”

RM – “So have you managed to settle into life in the West Country and have you managed to understand the accent yet?”

TW – “Ha Ha, Definitely! It can be pretty tough sometimes but I’m getting there. I am loving the Cream Tea’s though, that’s a real bonus of being here! I have found some amazing places to eat. Being in this part of the world is great too as I love going to the beach with my 2 young boys to surf, we went down to Cornwall the other week and they jumped straight onto the Boogie boards and got straight into the water…even though it was freezing! It’s very important that as a family we can get away from rugby sometimes and just enjoy our time together. Being here gives us that.”

RM – “Having won a few caps for England do you wish you had been able to get more, and do you ever regret not winning an All Black cap?”

TW – “Coming over here one of my main ambitions was to play International rugby so I guess I have ticked that box. I guess I would have liked a few more games but at least I have a couple of jerseys that my boys can cherish, and Billy Vunipola hasn’t done too bad a job of looking after the number! With regards to the All Blacks, I was a member of their Junior Kiwi Club when I was little and grew up with posters of the players on my wall so I definitely would have loved to have represented them but my brother Scott beat me to that! I have no regrets though, my Mum and Dad have both jerseys hanging up at their home so we haven’t done too badly! I guess the positive way of looking at not being an International player still is that I know I will be with The Chiefs for the whole season and can focus all my energy and passion into them.”

RM – “Finally Thomas, no professional player likes to think about when they have to hang up the boots and look beyond their playing days but is that something you ever contemplate?”

TW – “I have been incredibly lucky to still be playing at this level but the older you get you do sometimes think about the future and with that in mind I am doing a Management degree at Northumberland Uni and am starting to build my CV. I quite like the idea of working with Academy aged players in some way to be able to lead and mentor them but I haven’t spoken with Rob about this yet! We also get a lot of sponsors who come to each home game and I always make a point of taking time to speak with as many of them as I can, because they are always supporting us, to network and build relationships with them. You never know where an opportunity might come from!”

Thomas Waldrom is a rare breed, a professional sportsman who plies his trade at the very top but does so with a difference from many others. He plays with a smile on his face, genuinely enjoys the interaction with the fans and DEFINITELY doesn’t take himself too seriously. Perhaps that’s why he is still doing what he does best…… with the best! A lot of other professionals could learn a thing or two from him and we thoroughly enjoyed spending time with him. Good luck for the season ahead Thomas the Tank….