Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Given half a chance, Wallace would love to return home the new Prince of Wales

Two years ago Paddy Wallace watched the television pictures from Cardiff as Ireland crashed to a resurgent Wales in the Millennium Stadium.



It made grim viewing as Mike Ruddock's men raced away leaving Ireland's Triple Crown aspirations in tatters.

How times change though. For next Sunday the former Campbell College star will be part of Ireland's squad as they begin the defence of their Triple Crown in the intimidating surrounds of the Welsh capital.

Wallace, one of the most modest and self effacing of men, has come a long way since winning World Cup Under 19 honurs with an Irish side that included Brian O'Driscoll, Donnacha O'Callaghan and Kieran Campbell.

That was back in 1998 and since then it's fair to say that Wallace hasn't enjoyed the best of luck with injuries.

Four years later he broke his right leg in the final minute of Ulster's defeat at Swansea, the second time he had suffered such a setback.

In the light of all that he's entitled to curse his luck and ask why me, but that's never been the Wallace way.

Instead he talks of how fortunate he's been and just thrilled to bits that at 27 his international rugby career is starting to take off.

He's as proud as punch to be a father for the first time, wife Tina having given birth to son Paddy earlier in the month.

It seems that at last things are looking up for the current Ulster number 10 and the man ready to step into Ronan O'Gara's shoes if things should go wrong.

"I consider myself to have been very fortunate. It's a case of hanging in, persevering and hoping that things work out." he said.

Wallace is the first to admit he owes a debt of gratitude to Ireland coach Eddie O' Sullivan.

For O'Sullivan has kept a watchful eye on Paddy ever since he brought him into a training camp in May 2002 for the two Test summer tour to New Zealand.

That was back in Wallace's glittering first season as a full time professional when as a 22-year-old he first nailed down the full back berth on the Ulster team and then with Ireland A.

As the years passed by there must have been times when he despaired of pulling on the green jersey.

It got to such a stage that last April he was on the verge of heading off to play his rugby with top French side Castres, but fate then intervened.

Ulster ruled out such a move on the basis that centres Kevin Maggs and Paul Steinmetz were injured.

Then when their replacement Jonny Bell suffered a wrist injury, Wallace against all the odds found himself playing at 12 and a central figure in Ulster's run in to Celtic League success.

"The one great thing is that playing at 12 is similar in many respects to being a number 10 so in that sense it was a seamless enough transition.

"Then before the autumn internationals I had a couple of weeks to get accustomed to again playing at 10," he said.

He's the first to admit there was a fair degree of pressure going into the autumn internationals when Ireland faced internationals against South Africa, Australia and Pacifice Islands.

For a number of players, not least Paddy Wallace, these were games that could shape their career.

He needn't have worried for against the Pacific Islands he had a dream debut, the stuff dreams are made of, finishing up with a personal haul of 26 points.

Wallace, the first Campbell College player to figure for Ireland since Gordon Hamilton, readily admits he owes a debt of gratitude to Eddie O'Sullivan.

"I've a lot to thank him for. He showed a lot of faith in me and I was just glad to be able in some small way to repay that."

All the time though he never lost faith in his own ability.

"I was 21 when I was first in the Irish squad and I'm 27 now so I had six years to prepare for it."

His father Paul, a more than useful centre, has been a huge influence on his career and has always been supportive.

A dream debut against the Pacific Islands coupled with impressive form for Ulster at 10 in the absence of the injured David Humphreys augurs well for a man who at last is getting all the right breaks.

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