From beach unto breach for Wallace
NEW ZEALAND TOUR PADDY WALLACE:PADDY WALLACE began the week on a beach in Portugal with his family and, after a day delayed in Auckland due a fog-cancelled flight, will end it starting the third Test against the All Blacks in Hamilton on Saturday.
It adds to a varied list of end-of-season tours for the 32-year-old, who will be winning his 30th cap, yet it will be his fourth Irish tour to go with three World Cups.
Wallace was an uncapped member of the 2003 World Cup squad, belatedly making his Irish debut against as a replacement against South Africa in November 2006 before scoring 26 points on his full debut at outhalf in a man-of-the-match performance against the Pacific Islands a fortnight later.
With his versatility as an inside centre-cum-outhalf, who can also goal kick, Wallace has always been a valued squad member although ironically, he had originally been omitted from this tour despite what even Declan Kidney admitted was probably his best season yet after returning from a thumb operation in the New Year.
“Personally, the season went pretty well for me after I came back from my thumb injury. That coincided with a good Heineken Cup run which unfortunately, didn’t manage to get past Leinster in the end, but overall it was a really enjoyable season.”
Wallace had been due to link up with the squad on Tuesday, but in the event didn’t arrive until yesterday after his connecting flight was cancelled due to fog.
But having played against the Barbarians in Gloucester three weeks ago, his place in the starting team as a direct replacement for the departed Gordon D’Arcy was confirmed after a full session yesterday.
“It’s great to be called in. I was disappointed not to make the original squad, but I kept training away. The Baa-Baas game was important from that point of view and then I just kept myself ticking over with Stephen Bell back in Ulster.
“He’s an ex-player and personal trainer, and I hooked up with him for three weeks. It’s beneficial that I was doing that having got the call-up.
“It’s hard to get that balance between enjoying holidays and being on stand-by. But I think with my age profile you can’t relax too much on holidays. You want to be coming back into pre-season in good shape and I really made that a focus this year, and it’s paid off in that having got the call-up I’m feeling in very good shape and well prepared, and it’s just a matter of learning the patterns of play, which I’m pretty used to anyway. It makes that transition quite easy.”
Wallace received the call on Saturday having watched the second Test on television early that morning.
“I was enjoying some sun. I actually didn’t cop when I saw Darce go off. We actually went to the beach and left the phones in the apartment and when I came back there was a long list of missed calls.
“Yeah, it was a bit of a long journey getting out here obviously, and I was in Auckland yesterday. So it’s been a long three days, but it’s great to get back amongst the squad again and getting the first training session under my belt.”
His arrival in Queenstown, “with planes running 50 metres over your head and the Remarkables (mountain range) in the background”, brought back memories of the World Cup.
Missing out on the day off is more than compensated for by his first cap since the win over Russia during the World Cup in Rotorua. “I’m fairly shocked and surprised, to be honest, but delighted at the same time.
“Sitting on a beach in Portugal four days ago, I certainly never thought I’d be playing in the third Test. Absolutely delighted. Watching the guys come so close in the second Test, I think everybody now has a taste for it. We know we can cause them trouble and hopefully we’ll go that one step further this week.”
He renews a partnership with Brian O’Driscoll which dates back to them winning the Under-19 World Championship together in France in 1998 (with Wallace at outhalf), and alongside O’Driscoll he also scored Ireland’s only try in the 21-11 defeat in Wellington four years ago.
“That seems a long time ago now. That was a tough game but it’s always going to be tough playing against the All Blacks, especially on their home patch.
“It’s going to be a huge challenge for everybody involved. Like I said, they came so close last week and it’s a very motivated squad to go one better.”