Full steam ahead for Waldrom
By Mark Stevens
The sight of Thomas 'The Tank' Waldrom chugging his way over the try-line is something Exeter Chiefs fans have got rather accustomed to over recent seasons, such has been the success of the free-scoring No.8 since his arrival in Devon back in the summer of 2014.
Never in his wildest dreams would the Kiwi-born forward have envisaged his move from the East Midlands to that of deepest Devon would prove so profitable.
It has, however, been a match made in heaven for the 34-year-old and the Chiefs, who have defied the so-called experts year on year to establish themselves not only as a proven force within the Aviva Premiership, but more recently also on the European stage.
This Sunday, Waldrom is expected to be very much part and parcel of a Chiefs outfit who will be looking to maintain their impressive run of form against three-time champions, Leinster Rugby, in the third round of this season's European Champions Cup.
Undefeated since losing to Leicester Tigers back in late September, Rob Baxter's side have since gone on a nine-game winning streak that has not only put them eight points clear in the defence of their Aviva Premiership crown, but has also put them in a healthy position both in the Anglo-Welsh and Champions Cup competitions.
Exeter's latest success story came on Saturday when they brushed aside the attentions of local rivals Bath 42-29 at Sandy Park, a result which has given them the perfect fillip ahead of their upcoming double-header against Leinster.
"We set our targets for each block of the season, so it's good that we have these wins in the bank," said Waldrom. "It means we can put the Premiership to bed for a few weeks, not have to worry about that too much, and focus all our thoughts on Europe."
With Leinster next up, however, Waldrom and his fellow Chiefs know they will need to be at their very best against the Irish province, who have lifted European Rugby's top prize on three previous occasions.
"It will be tough, games at this level always are, but at the same time we're also in very good form ourselves," added Waldrom, who has been a revelation for the Chiefs since joining from Leicester Tigers three years ago, scoring 49 tries in just 86 appearances.
"I think the weekend showed what we are capable of. For an hour of the game we blew Bath away and although the last 20 wasn't great, where we allowed them to get a bonus point, there were still lots of positives to take from the game.
"I think the performance showed how hard we had worked in the week to fix up a few things from the Saracens game. We targeted a fast start and we got that. I think a lot of credit has to go not just to the coaches and the players out on the pitch, but to the squad as a whole because they really prepared us well for the game."
And it's the strength of the Chiefs squad that the England international believes is helping to drive standards onwards and upwards at Sandy Park.
"I knew when I first met Rob that he had a clear vision to make the club successful," explained Waldrom, who was part of Exeter's title-winning side of last season. "He talked in detail to me about where he saw the club going. Straight away I knew I wanted to be part of that and it's what drew me to the Chiefs.
"Each season we've got stronger and stronger and we're moving forward. The work that is going on behind the scenes, the progress of the guys in the academy, it all adds to things. All of us, though, want to keep improving and that means producing each week, starting with these next two games in Europe."