Quiet man Wallace can silence old foe Williams
David Wallace is a solidly grounded Munster man whose handling of the media is not dissimilar to his treatment of opponents on the pitch; he concedes little to either.
While that sometimes frustrates members of the Press corps whose job is to get quotable pre-fixture opinions and printable post-match reactions, they acknowledge another of the Limerick openside’s on-the-record and on-field similarities, namely his willingness to go in where sometimes it can hurt.
Thus in the bowels of Stade de France on February 13 past, it was Wallace who came out first to handle the probing questions as to why Ireland had failed against the French.
True to form, he took the hit. And didn’t give much away in doing so.
On Saturday, the media spotlight will be on the opposing captains rather than the supporting cast.
Ireland’s Brian O’Driscoll will be winning his 100th cap, while Wallace’s old adversary, Martyn Williams — as Welsh skipper for the injured Ryan Jones — is poised to create history as Wales’ most capped forward by surpassing Colin Charvis’ 94 appearances landmark.
It will be Wallace’s 61st Irish cap and given that he made his Irish debut against Argentina in June, 2000, almost a year to the day after O’Driscoll’s first appearance against Australia in June, 1999, that’s quite a discrepancy.
Injuries have taken their toll.
He has evident regard for the record-breaking Welsh flanker he will be facing.
“He is a very good footballer and he does a very good job as a seven in terms of poaching balls if you leave yourself open for him to come in and pilfer,” is Wallace’s assessment of Williams.
“Also he can play like an out-half at times or a winger at times as well. He can put little kicks through; he has soft hands. There’s a wide range of skills.
“I’ve played against him a number of times going back to Under-21s and I’ve had two (Lions) tours with him so I’ve seen what he brings. He’s a good leader and guys want to play for him.
“I suppose it’s up to us to discourage them!
“It’s hard to pick fault in his game to be honest, though I think his work in poaching probably is his biggest strength.”
While he agreed the mood in the Irish camp has been good following the win against England at Twickenham — “Yes, that’s huge” — Wallace qualified that by adding: “But I think it was important, too, that we didn’t get too down after Paris.
“That was a poor performance, but we took a lot of positives out of it.”
And he put the London win in context by saying: “Likewise, but for that last try we would have been looking at a defeat and it could have been total doom and gloom. So it’s about trying to keep a level head after these games.”
Reflecting on the most recent Welsh performance he pointed out: “France got two interceptions against them and that totally changed the face of the game.
“Wales have been a bit unlucky at times this season.”
As for what to expect, he reckoned: “I suppose you have to expect the unexpected against them; that’s the way Wales play.
“They like to pass the ball and they’ve got strike players who can cause you a lot of damage if the game gets loose.”
The implication was that Ireland will work very hard to ensure that it doesn’t.
He also suggested that Ospreys’ Tommy Bowe could provide some insights “about how some of them play and their characteristics”.
“He’s very good at reading players and what they do,” Wallace said.
The flanker knows that if Ireland are to win they had better be prepared to fight.
“Last year in Cardiff was one of the most physical games I have ever played,” he revealed.
And he expects more of the same when they renew hostilities at Croke Park.
“Two seasons ago they beat us in Dublin and knowing the Welsh they will be banking on a similar result this time,” he said.
Wallace whose older brothers, Richie and Paul, also wore the green jersey has made a massive contribution to Irish rugby over the years both with Munster and Ireland.
Exceptionally strong and mobile, his immense strength and ball carrying ability has been a major feature in the Irish back row. It’s a crucial area in the modern game and one where coach Declan Kidney is blessed with genuine world class players.
Big hitting Stephen Ferris and Jamie Heaslip were magnificent against England as was Wallace and it’s that high level of performance they must reproduce if they are to see off Gatland’s men.
It won’t be easy, but after the hiccup of Paris, Kidney’s men are well back on track and determined to celebrate Brian O’Driscoll’s big day in style.