Rugby Union: Head down and forward the only way for Wallace

Twickenham holds no fear for the Irish prop who fired the Lions. Tom Power reports
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The Independent Online
QUIETLY and without fuss, Paul Wallace goes about his business. A Five Nations game against Wales one Saturday, an Allied Dunbar Premiership summit meeting in Newcastle the following Wednesday, a Tetley's Bitter Cup semi-final at Northampton the next Saturday and now an international against England at Twickenham a week later. You could get tired just thinking about it. Yet in his own singularly determined unobtrusive way, Paul Wallace has been an enduring stalwart for the Lions, Ireland and Saracens since last summer - hardly missing a game or letting his form drop in a season when so many mentally and physically jaded Lions have suffered burn-out.

"I think I've been able to raise it for the big games well enough. I've been playing through a lot of injuries, and there's no real cover for me at Saracens so I've had to play with a lot of injury. It's quite difficult playing through that but it's a professional game and you've just got to battle through it," he said, in typically phlegmatic Wallace mode.

It runs in the family and when the name Paul Wallace crops up it generally does so in unison with either his international brother and Saracens team- mate, Richard, or his Irish tight-head rival Peter Clohessy.

It was due to Clohessy's unavailability that Wallace was first called into the Irish squad for the 1995 World Cup. It was due to Clohessy's infamous stamping on Olivier Roumat's head in February 1996 that Wallace returned to the international side - since when he has been first choice - and it was due to Clohessy's back injury that he was added to the Lions squad as a late call-up last summer.

Lucky breaks don't come any luckier. At the time Wallace was with the doomed Irish development squad in Limerick prior to their trip to New Zealand and a rash of heavy defeats. "In fact, I met Peter at Heathrow. He was on his way home, very disappointed, and I was on my way to join the Lions. It appears as if Peter's career and mine are constantly interwoven."

It is no surprise that this is also true with his brother, Richard. When Paul made his debut against Japan in the 1995 World Cup, they became the first pair of brothers to play for Ireland since Mick and Tom Doyle against Wales in 1968. Then 23, he had served his time by playing for Ireland at every level - schools, universities, under-21, development and A. The last step was the biggest. "Establishing myself was quite easy but getting into the Irish side was quite difficult. In Ireland as opposed to some other countries they don't blood players too early. So you really have to do your penance."

Having an elder brother making the international grade can be a stimulus in several ways. "Once Richie got on the Irish team it was always `Richie's brother' and `are you going to be like Richie?' so in that sense you always want to get there. You get a bit sick of being called `Richie's brother'," joked the younger Wallace. "Unfortunately `Paul's brother' hasn't quite taken off."

It might well have done though, after his outstanding performances on the Lions tour when he came from third choice tight-head to play in all three Tests, one of only five Irish forwards to do so in a winning Lions series.

Explaining his ability to supplant David Young and Jason Leonard after watching on for the first three tour games, Wallace said: "The other two had played Test series before but the Lions didn't scrummage very well in those first three games. They're very much power, rather than technique- based and that was not going to be as effective against the South Africans. And I also felt I was as good if not better than them, so I had great confidence in myself. Basically I just had to wait for my chance. When I did, things went well."

So well, indeed, that by the end of the series it was the South Africans who were changing their front row, while the famed Os Du Randt must have been heartily sick of the reverent Irishman. Du Randt, Christian Califano, Craig Dowd - he has played them all, prompting the query as to who was the best. "I've been asked that a lot of times, those three are very good. I couldn't single out one."

From near the end of that Lions tour Wallace's scrummaging technique came in for lengthy inspection and analysis, to the point where Wallace almost became paranoid about it. He had good reason too, after penalties against him first prevented Ireland from putting Scotland away at Lansdowne Road, and then cost Ireland the match. "An English referee, who watched the series from Argentina, actually told me `we saw your hand on the ground and you're not going to get away with that this season'. Referee's seem to be picking on me because there's been so much hype about it. But you look at Olo Brown and he scrummages with his hand on the ground every scrum he plays in."

For all that, Wallace has survived the inquisition and the demands of the season with his reputation intact. Playing alongside and against all of the English side for the past two years should, reckons Wallace, be a help more than a hindrance at Twickenham. None the less, unlike his brother, but akin to 10 other members of this Irish side, Paul Wallace was not around to sample the stunning wins of 1993 and '94.

Furthermore, although Wallace and the Irish squad travelled by air to London today the form book suggests they may as well have gone on a wing and a prayer. "If we put a performance up like we did against France, I think it will be a very tight game and we could take it."