Paddy Wallace spurred on by hard road to brink of glory
A glance over in John Afoa’s direction brings a grin to Paddy Wallace’s face.
The All Black prop has just sat down at the other side of the room and already he has been virtually encircled by tape recorders while Wallace has able to stroll in almost unnoticed.
It’s strange how things have altered. Not that long ago, Ulster’s longest serving player might have been the main attraction as after so many years of frustration in the white shirt the 32-year-old has finally got his shot at the ultimate club prize and is doing so while playing some of the finest rugby of his career.
And as for Saturday and Leinster?
“I’m just sort of riding along and really enjoying it and hoping we can ...,” he laconically says before breaking off for something rather more direct.
“It would be great, really great to win a Heineken Cup there’s no doubt about that. Especially for the guys who’ve been through all the crap, the dark days.
“It would be really great for those guys who have stuck around to achieve this,” Wallace states without alluding to himself.
As he now prepares to make his 173rd appearance for his province, that vast experience will come to bear for this challenge.
He was part of Ireland’s Grand Slam side and was there when it was won at that nerve-shredding endgame at the Millennium Stadium — and of course Johann Muller, Ruan Pienaar, Pedrie Wannenburg and John Afoa all know what it is like to play at the very highest level — but this is an altogether different feeling.
“It’s going to really build up later in the week as we prepare to travel over to London.
“When we do our captain’s run (today at Twickenham) I think that is when it will really kick in,” Wallace says.
“But I think it helps us that we’re such massive underdogs.”
Of course the sides know each other inside out and Wallace will be facing a phalanx of players he is extremely familiar with from years of interprovincial clashes and Ireland squad sessions.
He will perform a pivotal role as not only Ulster’s midfield playmaker but also their core defensive player.
“With Paddy (Jackson) inside me and Darren (Cave) on the outside, we’re very confident in our little unit there,” said Wallace.
“Reducing their momentum when they have the ball will be the key. Actually all their backs are capable of turning the ball over in those wide areas and slow our ball down which will slow down the type of game we want to play.
“So if we can flip that we can limit their opportunities. “We’ve just got to starve them of opportunities.”
And with another look in Afoa’s direction, Wallace leans against the wall and watches it all unfold. Tomorrow evening is sure to be busier for him.