The 27 year-old has been studying for a Bachelor of Science, which is usually a three year degree, but with rugby commitments, it’s taken Walden eight years to finish.
He majored in geography with a minor in Te Reo Māori.
“It took me a little longer than usual, but I got there. I was pumped I could print that off in lockdown, it was weight off my shoulders and my parents were stoked. They helped me out a lot through the process,” said Walden.
He was all set to officially graduate this month, but with the COVID-19 situation, that’s likely to now take place next year. Until then, Walden has a brand new Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa competition to get ready for with the Highlanders.
The southern club spent the longest amount of time in isolation, having had to go straight into lockdown on return from Argentina. Walden said everyone has returned to training in good nick.
“We had a bit longer in lockdown compared to everyone else, but the boys had some plans in place over the break with our skills and gym work to try and maintain our fitness. Now we’re back together, our skills were a little bit rusty but it doesn’t take long to fine tune those and Browny’s [Tony Brown] has us doing drill after drill until we nailed it, so the skill set it improving.”
The Highlanders sat at the bottom of the New Zealand conference before the break, with just one win and Walden said they now have an opportunity to make up for their disappointing start to the year.
“It’s not often you get a second chance on the rugby field and we are really excited about this new Super Rugby Aotearoa competition. What’s different for us is we’ve just flushed everything that’s happened, we addressed that at the start and now everything is about getting excited for the competition ahead.”
The Highlanders identified a key area where they felt they underperformed earlier in the season, with execution under pressure a big work on.
“Under fatigue, our skill sets probably weren’t up to scratch,” said Walden.
“We are going to have to be on form with our skills in this competition and we are going to have to be fit. Fitness and decision making under pressure are key areas we have been focusing on.”
Walden is now one of four Highlanders midfielders who are fit and ready to play Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa. Earlier in the year, the Highlanders midfield stocks took a hit with players either suspended or out with injury. Highlanders head coach Aaron Mauger has Walden, Sio Tomkinson, Ngane Punivai and Rob Thompson to choose from, providing him with healthy selection headaches.
And Mauger said while he didn’t think the decision to play Josh Ioane at 12 was an absolute failure, it’s highly likely we will only see him at first five-eighth from now on.
“We see Josh primarily as a number 10, so the competition is between Josh, Mitch Hunt and Bryn Gatland. We did always think he was a 10 but it was a bit of an experiment early on. I think Mitch Hunt probably coped a lot of flak during that period which was unjust.
“When your forward pack is on the front foot, the game is a whole lot easier and we didn’t provide that as a pack, so we made our 9’s and 10’s job really hard. We’ve put a bit of accountability on our forwards. They’ve got to front up and be better”.
The Highlanders host the opening game of Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa against the Chiefs at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday 13 June at 5:05pm. All games will be live on Sky Sport.