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Wallace is ready to take Six Nations spotlight

By Hugh Farrelly

Paddy Wallace has been in the shadows for so long, it would be easy to forget his all-too-brief dalliances in the spotlight. "He played beside me in the summer, some people might forget that," mused Brian O'Driscoll.

The rest of us had to go fumbling dog-eared newspaper cuttings from distant days about when the pair combined to win Ireland's only World Cup at any level -- 11 years ago in South Africa at U19 level.

Last summer's brief glimpse of Wallace's attacking brio -- shielded from public glare for so long -- shone particularly brightly, firstly in scoring a try against the All Blacks, then beneath the Telstra Dome against Australia last summer as he dovetailed smartly alongside the Irish captain.

Even then, he was a parachuted option following injury to Luke Fitzgerald. It seemed to be the story of his life.

So long discarded as a viable back-line option, instead shoehorned into the almost mythical role post-David Humphreys as Ronan O'Gara's understudy, one didn't need to have a degree in daytime confessional TV to sense that the previous Irish regime never really trusted the Belfast man.

Ironically, Humphreys' longevity at provincial level also did little to ease his path, even if Wallace did manage to join the 2003 World Cup party despite being uncapped. Other resistance came from a series of injuries and a defensive fallibility so characteristic of many out-halves.

While holding tackle bags in Australia, Bryn Cunningham thieved his Ulster spot. An international breakthrough may have knocked on his door for the 2005 Japan tour but for a broken hand. His career was becoming a depressing cycle of missed chances.

A decent Churchill Cup campaign in 2006 failed to sway a suspicious Irish management -- that he had been detailed there in the first place told its own story, despite his stunning form that season during Ulster's Magners League triumph.

Even in Argentina, on the eve of a second World Cup, his trial period lasted just one match as injury intervened to thwart his stunted ambition. Another World Cup campaign would barely have cause to rouse him from his slumber, a fleeting appearance against Namibia hardly balm for an open wound.

But now, re-ignited by an unlikely Ulster revival injected with familiar enthusiasm by Matt Williams, and a new Irish management unmoved by pre-conceived notions, Wallace may have finally shed off the 'nearly man' tag.

"It's my first start in the Six Nations," is his retort when proffered congratulations. It's almost as if he feels like he has arrived properly on the international stage, all his previous frustrations cast aside like unwanted baggage.

Heck, he even dreamed of the day he'd be surrounded by slightly overweight, sweat-stained hacks stabbing dictaphones in his direction.

"You obviously set your individual goals and mine would have been to be sitting here with you guys all around me for the first game of the Six Nations Championship," he smiles.

In six years of an international dalliance which harvested an average of two caps a season, Wallace has experienced as many World Cups as Six Nations Championships; two apiece. The bizarre stats tell their own tale.

"It's my third campaign now, I think, so there's been a lot of time spent on the bench alright," he says with remarkable understatement.

With Kidney chopping and changing his back lines, Wallace didn't like to over-egg his optimism. He had an inkling, though, and with Kidney simply deciding to play his best players in their best positions, Wallace's recent form brooked no argument.

"Last summer I got my chance and proved I was capable of stepping up. I wouldn't say fairly confident, but I thought I had a better chance of being selected for this Six Nations than I had for previous ones. I was never really disheartened, no.”

Irish team: R Kearney (Leinster); T Bowe (Ospreys), B O'Driscoll (Leinster, captain), P Wallace (Ulster), L Fitzgerald (Leinster); R O'Gara (Munster), T O'Leary (Munster); M Horan (Munster), J Flannery (Munster), J Hayes (Munster), D O'Callaghan (Munster), P O'Connell (Munster), S Ferris (Ulster), D Wallace (Munster), J Heaslip (Leinster).

Replacements: R Best (Ulster), T Court (Ulster), M O'Kelly (Leinster), D Leamy (Munster), P Stringer (Munster), G D'Arcy (Leinster), G Murphy (Leicester).

Belfast Telegraph


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