Wallace: Ulster can handle the pressure
He could hardly believe what unfolded late last Friday. With the clock having passed 80 minutes, and Ulster clearly going to easily win, but looking as if they had blown their chance of a sound investment in a bonus point, Castres decided to run with the ball instead of shoeing it off the park.
Paddy Wallace wondered at their attitude as he looked, on after being substituted about 10 minutes earlier, though nobody foresaw what was about to happen as the French barrelled their way deep into Ulster territory.
“Actually, it astounded me,” Wallace recalls of the dramatic endgame from which Ulster managed to salvage a situation that hardly looked as if it would grant them a hugely rewarding five points.
“They had nothing to gain. They couldn’t get a bonus point but thankfully they did run it.”
Luckily for Ulster Jared Payne snaffled possession and the next thing Luke Marshall was breaking out of his 22 before a certain Ruan Pienaar appeared outside Marshall and — not forgetting Darren Cave’s support line which helped create the gap for Pienaar — ran between two stranded Castres players to score under the sticks.
“The break that they made was probably the best thing that could have happened for us because they ended up forcing the pass,” Wallace said.
“But to our credit we turned that over and ran the length of the pitch so that could turn out to be so important,” Ulster’s veteran centre stated while still readily admitting that only good fortune brought the ultimate reward.
But then luck is central to all successful European campaigns, as is the nerve to back your instincts in tight situations when players with Wallace’s experience are invaluable to have around the place even though last Friday’s break out was given its impetus by 21-year-old Luke Marshall who had come on for Wallace and is, yes, 12 years his junior.
Still, Ulster will be hoping that they can get what they want without such last minute heroics tonight from their second Heineken Cup outing with Glasgow Warriors at their new Scotstoun home.
Naturally, Wallace accepts that last season’s European finalists now not only travel to Scotland to face a familiar PRO12 League foe, but they also arrive there with a highly prized away win theoretically within their grasp.
“In the past it was always a case of win your home games and try and win away and now we’re expected to win away,” he added.
“It’s a different mindset and something you have to mind against.
“I think we’re experienced enough to face that challenge well.
“And obviously with the form we’ve had we’re going into the game as favourites,” Wallace adds referring to Ulster’s unbeaten run of six games in all their competitive encounters thus far this season.
The Warriors will be smarting from their 24-15 defeat at Northampton Saints — which was especially disappointing after they had raced into a 15-0 lead — and know that they must hit back with a home win to pretty much keep their interest in Europe going.
Wallace expects a backlash and a side — who before their defeat to Saints had won their last four PRO12 games — presumably intent on playing the game with width and pace while also hoping that Ulster’s unfamiliarity with the place — this will be their first outing at Scotstoun — will also give the home team added advantage.
“It’s a completely different challenge this week,” he adds while noting that though Ulster have no regrets at never seeing the unloved Firhill ground again, they will need to quickly adapt to their new surroundings.
“Yeah it’s an unknown quantity for us and I think they’ve even had a few teething problems starting off there.
“I think it’s got a running track around it so it’s fairly open and something the kickers will have to deal with when they’re getting their sight lines adjusted accordingly.”
He didn’t play in August’s 18-10 PRO12 League win over the Warriors at Ravenhill.
“Over the years, Glasgow have a good record against us so they’ll have no fears of playing us,” Wallace maintains.